Northern Ireland will be home to the biggest poultry firm in the UK after Moy Park announced it is to buy rival O'Kane Poultry.
Craigavon-headquartered Moy Park did not disclose how much it will pay for O'Kane, but its chief executive Nigel Dunlop said the deal would make Moy Park "one of, if not the largest" poultry processing firms in the country.
The firms' combined turnover is close to £1bn.
"The poultry markets of the UK and Europe are growing. By bringing the resources and expertise of Moy Park and O'Kane Poultry together, we are creating a business with the scale and sustainability of supply needed to meet the very significant growth opportunities that exist across Europe," said Mr Dunlop.
He admitted the merger could result in some redundancies but said Moy Park would continue to invest in O'Kane and will go ahead with the expansion of its Ballymena processing plant.
"We are looking to underpin as many of the jobs as we can. At Moy Park we have been able to grow profitability year-on-year, and we have been able to broadly hold employment levels, so our ambition will be to find ways to also grow the O'Kane business. It will hopefully be a positive transaction for the people in O'Kane as well as Moy Park," he said.
Moy Park and O'Kane Poultry currently sell around 200 million chickens and 1.5 million turkeys a year, and between them have contracts with around 760 local poultry farmers. The joint company will have 8,500 employees, 5,000 of them in Northern Ireland.
Founded in 1943, Moy Park is Northern Ireland's largest food processing company, with revenues of £780m. Since 2008 it has been owned by Brazilian food giant Marfrig. O'Kane was established as a family business in Ballymena in 1932, and had turnover last year of around £140m.
Its chairman Billy O'Kane added: "As part of the larger Moy Park organisation, the future of the producers who supply O'Kane Poultry is assured, as is Ballymena's position as a major centre of employment for the Northern Ireland poultry industry. Overall this announcement is good news for the local agri-food industry, and for the the wider Northern Ireland economy," he said.
Ulster Farmers' Union president John Thompson said he was seeking a meeting with Moy Park management to discuss how the deal affects farmers.
Mr Thompson said: "We have been working closely with O'Kane growers in recent times, seeking to resolve a production problem which they are currently facing. I am confident that we will be able to resolve this with Moy Park and ensure the growers are integrated successfully and enjoy a profitable future with the company."
DUP MP for North Antrim, and chairman of the Assembly's Agriculture Committee, Ian Paisley Jnr, also welcomed the deal.
"In terms of my own constituency, I am glad that the announcement will not result in job losses, but I would hope that the synergy created by this acquisition will ensure that Northern Ireland will become an even stronger region in terms of the agri-food sector, and poultry processing in particular," he said.