70 jobs are under threat at the former Fane Valley creamery in Banbridge after new owner Lakeland Dairies confirmed that the drying plant is to switch to a seasonal operation.
A spokesperson said Lakeland Dairies is consulting with staff at Banbridge on the implementation of these changes and will seek to minimise the impact of this development as much as possible.
The statement continues: “The move to seasonal processing is a common feature of the dairy industry and is already practiced in Lakeland Dairies with the seasonal operation of a Milk Powder plant in Lough Egish (in County Monaghan) and a Casein plant in Killeshandra (County Cavan).
“Global dairy markets have continued to be very challenging and farmers’ incomes and milk prices have reduced severely due to market volatility.
“Lakeland Dairies processes over one billion litres of milk annually and it needs to allocate this milk as flexibly and profitably as possible to different sites and into different product areas which are in the highest market demand, to yield the highest milk price at different times throughout the year,” the spokesperson added.
“Lakeland Dairies purchased the Banbridge dairy plant in May earlier this year. In recent years, the Banbridge site had minimum investment made in the processing capability of the plant, and consequently it is currently only capable of making products for which there is limited market demand at certain times of the year.
“A significant investment would be required to upgrade technology and processing capability to enable products with the specification and quality required by dairy markets across the world, but this is not feasible. As a result the move to seasonal processing is appropriate at this time.
“It is very regrettable that this necessary development will affect staff at Banbridge. The co-operative will seek to implement the proposed temporary lay-offs and any potential redundancies on a voluntary basis and will also explore redeployment wherever possible,” the spokesperson concluded.
Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has described the situation faced by staff as ‘heart-breaking.’ The Upper Bann MLA has written to Michael Hanley, Chief Executive of Lakeland Dairies, Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton following contact from distressed employees and their families.
Mrs Dobson said: “This announcement from management has come as a body blow to staff who are going through a difficult and uncertain time. Just three months ago the staff at the Creamery had been told that their jobs were secure when Lakeland purchased the facility from Fane Valley – Tuesday ‘ announcement has pulled the rug out from underneath them.”
More reaction in Saturday’s Farming Life.