LacPatrick need space and time to decide way forward: farmers
Concerned farmers have urged that LacPatrick Dairies must be given the "space and time" to decide the best option for the co-op.
It comes as at least one overseas investor, alongside domestic co-operatives, expressed an interest in a possible tie-up with the dairy processor, which takes milk from around 700 farmers in Northern Ireland.
Any merger would need backing from 75% of members and Lakeland Dairies is understood to be the most likely partner.
Jim Bergin, chief executive of Irish food and dairy giant Glanbia, refused to say if it would be interested in a tie-up.
"We have a number of arrangements in place and we've good relations with them and that will be down to the board to decide at some point," he said.
A spokesman for Lakeland Dairies, which is based in Cavan and also takes milk from large numbers of Northern Ireland farmers, said it had noted LacPatrick's statement but declined to comment.
"LacPatrick is a substantial business with strong heritage in co-operative dairy farming," a Lakeland spokesman said.
However, Dale Farm, which is Northern Ireland's biggest dairy processor and owned by over 1,300 dairy farmers, stated it was "interested".
LacPatrick, which has a cross-border milk pool, confirmed that it is looking at possible deals including partnerships, joint ventures, mergers and other opportunities to consolidate the dairy industry. It follows a number of approaches in recent months.
The business is profitable and has made significant investment to Brexit-proof its operations, but many suppliers were left disgruntled after its most recent milk price announcement.
Pat McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association ICMSA, said that the co-op needed the "space and time" to ascertain the "best option" for the co-op and their farmer-suppliers.
After meeting with LacPatrick yesterday, Irish Farmers Association (IFA) Ulster North Leinster chair Nigel Renaghan said farmers were concerned as to what this move might mean for them.
He said the "livelihoods" of milk producers must not be negatively affected.
LacPatrick was formed in 2015 from a merger of Town of Monaghan co-op and Ballyrashane Creameries in Coleraine.
A spokeswoman for Dale Farm said it was "set to report strong financial results for 2017 for the third year running".
"With headquarters in Belfast, Dale Farm has 10 sites across the UK and a long-standing heritage in the dairy industry," she added.
Dale Farm owns Dale Farm Milk, Dale Farm Ice Cream, Dromona, Spelga, Fivemiletown, Mullins Ice Cream, Rowan Glen and Loseley.
Its broad dairy portfolio spans milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, sports nutrition drinks, cultured products and desserts.