I spent a fair bit of time in the company of representatives from Northern Ireland’s milk sector at last night’s Grain Trade Dinner in Belfast. To a man, they had no hesitation in confirming to me the high level of co-operation that exists between all the dairies operating on this island. Take the case of a plant in the North having a breakdown on a particular day. In such circumstances, a quick phone call is made to colleagues south of the border, so as to ensure that one of the world’s most perishable food products is processed quickly and effectively. And no doubt the same principle works in reverse, if and when required. So far so good!
And then I started to think about the current National Dairy Council (NDC) guarantee campaign which provides consumers in the Republic of Ireland with the opportunity to purchase milk that has been produced and processed in the state. From day one, this has been nothing more than a blatant attempt to keep Northern milk companies, such as Strathroy and Linwood Dairies, out of the southern market. I have always felt uneasy about the very principle that lies behind this approach, particularly given the fact that both of the aforementioned companies have a strong producer base in the Republic. And, in the specific case of Strathroy, this is due to grow significantly, given the recent establishment of a strong farmer supply base by the company in the Wexford area.
But, most annoying of all, is the fact that the NDC campaign fails to tell its consumers about the strong business ties which many of the Irish dairies have with milk producers in Northern Ireland. Lakeland Dairies, Town of Monaghan Co-op and Aurivo have well-established farmer supply networks in the North. And, of course, last week’s deal involving GIIL and Fivemiletown will see large volumes of milk produced in counties Tyrone and Fermanagh transported to the Glanbia plant in Virginia, Co Cavan. This is the site which produces the cream for the renowned Bailey’s liqueur, one of Ireland’s most renowned exports.
In truth, the current NDC campaign smacks of pettiness and, in my opinion, does very little to shine a positive light on the modus operandi of the Council itself. And, let’s not kid ourselves, if events transpired to bring about a significant weakening of the euro against Sterling, no doubt the Northern liquid milk market would be flooded with milk from South of the border! This is a process known as ‘doing business’.