Dale Farm’s continuing track record in generating sustainable profits is a good news story for the agri food sector in Northern Ireland as a whole.
But, more than that, the co-op’s latest results also confirm that its business model is delivering for dairy farmers on the ground.
The last year has seen a welcome resurgence in farmgate milk prices. Up to a point, we can thank the strengthening of world dairy markets for this. But it’s also reassuring to know that, in Dale Farm’s case, consumer demand for its value-added and branded products is also increasing.
For the year ending March 2017, group operating profit was up 9% to £9.8m while profit before tax increased 16% from £6.8m to £7.9m. These figures were generated against a backdrop of a 5.1% growth in total turnover, which came in at £389m. They are all the more significant, given that turnover across the food and drinks sector as a whole dripped back in 2016/17.
The year in question was also marked by the appointment of Nick Whelan as Dale Farm’s new CEO. The business performance figures of the co-op speak for themselves. But Whelan made it clear from the outset that he was committed to paying farmers the best possible milk price. And, to date, he has more than kept his word.
The upward business trajectory of Dale Farm, combined with the price now on-offer to producers, is vindication for those farmers who stuck with the co-op during those times when they might have been sorely tempted to move in the direction of other processors. The reality is that many of the other business models, based on beating what would have been the old United Dairy Farmers’ milk price, were not sustainable.
Dairy remains one of the most important sectors within Northern Ireland’s economy. It goes without saying that milk producers should have a key say in the running of their industry. And it’s re-assuring to know that Dale Farm is allowing its farmer members to do just that.
So much for the good news: as we all know many challenges lie ahead for our dairy and other farming sectors. Brexit is just around the corner. Milk producers will be looking for leadership, where this crucial issue is concerned. And it will be up to the board members of Dale Farm to provide this.
As a group of people, their sole concern is to represent the best interests of the co-op’s farmer members. As a consequence, they are best placed to assess what Brexit deal will provide the most sustainable future for the producer base that underpins the dairy industry here.