Lakeland CEO Michael Hanley has told an audience made up of NIIAS (Northern Ireland Institute of Agricultural Science) members that the Irish dairy sector will continue to flourish beyond the ending of quotas.

Speaking prior to the opening of today’s Royal Ulster Winter Fair in Belfast, he added: “I want to make it quite clear to dairy farmers, North and South, that we will be in a position to process all of the milk that you can supply post 2015.

“A recent survey of our 1,700 farmer suppliers in the Republic  of Ireland confirms that 67 per cent will expand output beyond 2015, 29 per cent will stay where they are and four per cent will leave the industry. The figures for Northern Ireland are equally positive. The reality is that our 400 farmer suppliers in the North have increased output by 80 per cent over the past 18 years. And there is every prospect that this rate of growth will be maintained during the period ahead.

“What’s more significant is the fact that our latest survey results fully confirm the results of similar work carried out some months earlier.”

In terms of volume supply, the results of the most recent Lakeland survey indicate that the co-op will have a one-billion litre milk pool in the Republic of Ireland alone by 2020.

Hanley continued: “My confidence for the future is based on the reality that all of our current customers want to know exactly how much milk will be coming through the system over the coming years. And their response has been extremely positive.

“They are totally committed to a partnership agreement with Lakeland, provided we can demonstrate an ongoing commitment to invest in the development of the value added products they require to underpin the future of their businesses.”

Hanley went on to tell NIIAS members that the growth in dairy consumption in China and India alone will help boost the fortunes of the Irish dairy sector as whole over the coming years.

“In our own case the core challenge remains that of adding value to the milk supplied by our farmer suppliers,” he stressed.

“We are already supplying product for the infant formula sector. And we want to build on all of this. But the fundamental driver will be that of delivering a sustainable milk price to our farmers. And I am totally confident of being able to achieve this.”

Pictured: Crowds gather at the Royal Ulster Winter Fair in Belfast