Belfast Telegraph

Dairy boss: no-deal exit big danger to agri-food sector in Northern Ireland

Dale Farm chief speaks as co-op posts £12m profits

Ambitious strategy: Nick Whelan
Ambitious strategy: Nick Whelan
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

The head of Dale Farm has warned that leaving the EU without a deal on October 31 would jeopardise the future of the Northern Ireland agri-food industry.

Group chief executive Nick Whelan made the comments as the dairy co-op announced a 19% rise in pre-tax profits to £12m last year.

Overall group turnover grew 5.6% to £509m for the co-op, which is made up of more than 1,300 dairy farmers in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland.

But speaking yesterday, Mr Whelan said: "With the October 31 deadline in place, a no-deal Brexit very much remains a possibility and for the agri-food sector that is hugely concerning."

"Leaving the European Union without a deal would, put simply, jeopardise the future of the NI agri-food industry."

Brands owned by Dale Farm include Dromona butter and cheese and Spelga yoghurt.

Describing the 2018/19 financial performance as "hugely positive", Mr Whelan said it marked the fourth year of consistent growth in profitability for the business.

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Dale Farm said it attracted a significant number of new members and suppliers over the past financial year, with a 7% growth in its milk pool.

"Our consistent profitable growth is the result of our people working together on an ambitious strategy in a culture of continuous improvement, a focus on product and process innovation and building partnerships with major customers across the UK, EU and beyond," he said.

The group chief executive said the current status quo provides for highly integrated supply chains between Northern Ireland, the Republic and Great Britain, with large volumes of milk heading south to be processed across the border. "At present this trade and movement is frictionless, but in a no-deal scenario, the sector immediately faces potentially damaging tariff and regulatory barriers."

Mr Whelan said he had used forums such as the Food and Drink Sector Council to highlight directly with the Government the impact a no-deal situation could have on Northern Ireland agriculture.

"Our priority as a dairy cooperative is to do our best to plan and prepare on behalf of our farmer owners.

"We are having a series of meetings with farmers to discuss issues, implications and concerns around Brexit and a potential no deal - and that will remain our focus as time progresses."

Meanwhile, Dale Farm yesterday confirmed that during the financial year, it paid the leading milk price as per the 12-month rolling milk price league in Northern Ireland.

Investment in facilities and operations also reached £30.2m over the last four years.

The co-op posted a 15.8% group return on capital employed (ROCE) for the group overall, the ratio for measuring how well a company is able to generate profits from its capital.

"We continually assess and reinvest into every step of the production process to increase our operating efficiencies and in doing so, have achieved a return on capital well above the industry average," said Mr Whelan.

Belfast Telegraph