The results of the members’ survey now underway at Dale Farm will be critical in determining the co-op’s development plans for the future, according to Group CEO Nick Whelan.
“I cannot over emphasise the importance of this exercise,” Mr Whelan explained.
“We are asking farmers to provide us with insights on how they wish to develop their farming businesses over the next three years. In turn, this will allow Dale Farm to strategically plan ahead for the next five.
“Given this backdrop, it is important that as many Dale Farm members as possible participate in the survey.”
Mr Whelan said that the results of the survey will allow the business plan for the future on a number of fronts.
“In the first instance, it will be part of our Brexit-proofing response. But, fundamentally, we need to get an accurate sense of how much milk we will be processing over the next number of years.
“Based on this information, we can then plan ahead in terms of how much actual processing capacity we need. It will also give insights into the relevance of possible mergers and acquisitions.”
Mr Whelan explained that Dale Farm board members and management have no preconceived ideas on what future trends the survey will throw up.
“We already know that a significant number of our members are committed to future growth. But, in equal measure, a number of existing suppliers may want to leave the dairy industry altogether.
“And this may well be the case on farms where there is no successor coming through to take over the business.”
Dale Farm has 1,250 members, supplying 800m litres of milk annually.
“Our upcoming Milk Production Incentive is testimony to this. All litres supplied above the 2015 base for the months of October, November and December will receive a 4ppl bonus” said Mr Whelan. “I am also very aware that milk prices have improved significantly over the past 12 months. But looking long term, dairy farmers should be very conscious of the fact that world dairy markets will remain extremely volatile.
“And we make specific reference to this point in the survey. The average milk price paid in Northern Ireland over the past five years was around 25ppl. And this is the benchmark figure that members should have in their heads as they fill in the survey forms.”
Whelan admitted that Brexit will provide both opportunities for Dale Farm and its farmer-members.
“On the upside, we have had numerous customers asking us if we can guarantee a continuous supply of British dairy products, once Brexit becomes a reality.
“And this is a key reason why we need to get a sense of our members’ future farm development plans.
“But the down side to Brexit will be the changes to the support measures available to farmers. We need to take account of all these factors as we plan for the future.”
The Dale Farm CEO confirmed that all of the information supplied by individual producers will remain absolutely confidential.
“We will be sharing the general trends that are identified with our members over the coming months. It’s important that they know how Dale Farm can respond to the market opportunities that present themselves over the coming years.
“The survey is part of a root and branch review of all Dale Farm’s activities.”
Mr Whelan confirmed the strong co-operative ethos associated with every aspect to the Dale Farm business.
“But the overall driver is that of delivering the best possible price back to farmers,” he said.
Survey letters were sent out to all Dale Farm members last week. Members are asked to complete the survey online or return completed forms by Friday September 22.
Mr Whelan concluded: “Dale Farm is wholly-owned by its farmer suppliers. As a consequence, the results of the survey will help determine the future prospects of all our farmer suppliers. This is why it is so important for as many members as possible to take part.”