While halloumi exports are increasing year after year to the tune of 15 to 20 per cent, bringing in a revenue of €103m in 2015, production of sheep and goat’s milk is falling, Cheesemakers Association general secretary Andreas Andreou said on Thursday.
“This industry has a lot of potential” he told the Cyprus News Agency in an interview. Yet “instead of seeing people enter the sheep and goat farming industry and organise themselves in modern groups, we’re seeing them leave.”
This is because according to Andreou, there are no incentives encouraging young people to get involved in the industry even if their parents are farmers, and as a result, sheep and goat’s milk production is not enough to match the increasing exports.
Although Cyprus is in the start of a 10-year adjustment period where cow’s milk can be used in the production of the cheese as long as 51 per cent of the content is sheep and/or goat milk, Andreou said little is being done to increase production of the particular milk.
He suggested incentives should not be centered towards the number of animals but directly to the production of milk which would encourage producers to keep the animals in good conditions, feeding them properly so they have better quality milk and improve their production units.
A 60-year-old farmer for instance will not be interested in investing in his units as his children “will not follow the admittedly difficult profession their father is in.” However good farms are “100 per cent” profitable, Andreou said and can be a lucrative profession.
Cyprus is currently in the midst of registering halloumi / hellim as a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) meaning both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot producers would be allowed to make and sell halloumi with the specific name.
According to Andreou, Turkish Cypriot producers have similar concerns as far as the 51 per cent sheep and / goat milk specifications are concerned.
Asked on copycat products such as “grilloumi” “grill cheese” “barbeque cheese” or white cheese on the grill from other countries, he said they were items which were in competition with halloumi and although similar, halloumi was well known in European and international markets, “resulting in it being a product with a lot of potential.”
Denmark, England and Greece also produce halloumi – Germany used to – as does Turkey with really cheap milk which could flood the market due to the high volume of production however they are not classed as halloumi, Andreou said.
A similar feat was noticed when feta was registered as a PDO with ‘white cheese’ being sold on the market, something that is likely to happen with halloumi, he added.
Last year, Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis announced measures worth €35 million aimed at supporting sheep and goat farmers for the next three years.
The measures involve improving productivity, increasing livestock, increasing the amount of goat and sheep milk and a series of horizontal measures such as adopting a farmers’ registry, upgrading the sheep and goat registration system and improving the water balance with the use of recycled water in agriculture.