Lakeland shareholders have their say on the new merger
At the Lakeland Dairies Special General Meeting (SGM) – held at the Hotel Kilmore in Co. Cavan – AgriLand was in attendance to get shareholders’ opinions on the decision to merge with LacPatrick.
Shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of the merger, making the new entity the second-largest dairy processor in the country.
A dairy farmer from Carrickmacross and a shareholder in the Lakeland co-op, JP Kiernan said that he believes the merger is going to be “a good thing for the co-op”.
“I was skeptical about a few points; but after hearing the board speaking at the SGM, they clarified any of my concerns,” he added.
He believes that the new merger will be a benefit to dairy farmers in the long term and said the board outlined “the opportunities this merger presents by increasing Lakelands’ foothold in the north”.
“I believe this will be beneficial in light of Brexit,” he said.
Raymond is a dairy farmer and Lakeland shareholder from Moynalty, Co. Meath. In the lead up to the vote, he admitted he was concerned about the merger.
He said: “It is great to see the co-op expanding; but given the milk price volatility experienced in the past, it is concerning to see how it will affect farmers at ground level.
Prices have remained steady this year and farmers have had a good run at the milk, but hopefully this merger will not give rise to a milk price drop.
“We are going to be supplying alongside LacPatrick customers now and they have a significant milk pool in the north and south.”
He outlined that the merger will leave Lakeland with a larger land base and – in the long term – the merger will be “all for the better that farmers in the same area are all supplying the same co-op”.
John McGee is a dry shareholder and former employee of Lakeland Dairies from Baileborough, Co. Cavan.
He thinks that the recently announced merger is “a great venture for the future“.
“The north-eastern co-ops have all amalgamated now and there is a chance to rationalise without lorries crossing each other.
It looks like the amalgamation fitted like a jigsaw. We now have the second biggest co-op in the country.
Commenting on the challenges facing the newly merged co-op with Brexit looming, John said: “As I see Brexit, Lakeland are well situated with plants in the north to handle the northern milk and they are well situated in the south to handle the milk down here – so, hopefully, Brexit should not bring a drawback”.
John Beglan is also a dry shareholder from Mullahorn, Co. Cavan and he believes the merger is long overdue.
“When Lakelands was set up originally it was to be Killeshandra, Lough Egish and Town of Monaghan all in one. But Town of Monaghan were not too anxious to join up and said maybe in the future, that day has now arrived,” he said.
John added that, while the merger will be beneficial, he believes the board has a lot of hard work to do now.
“There’s no point in merging if you don’t integrate the businesses. Difficult decisions will have to be taken,” he noted.
Continuing, he outlined that he believes Lakeland is heading in the right direction.
“Farmers appreciate ownership of the co-operative movement where they have a say, unlike what has happened to the beef trade.
We can never let the dairy industry go the way the beef industry has gone.
He expressed his confidence in Lakeland’s leadership saying: “The board of directors is all our own farmers and if they are not doing a good job then we are free to remove them.
“Brexit is the unknown, but we have to adapt to what is best and this will give us a better option. We are in a better position now, with more facilities in Northern Ireland.”
A dairy farmer and Lakeland shareholder from Stamullen, Co. Meath, Brendan Meade welcomed the merger – but said that “it is a landmark decision that is 40 years late”.
Brendan said: “It should have been done years ago, because there were too many small co-ops and they needed greater scale at the time.
If the co-ops can create synergies and cut costs, it hopefully means we will get a better price for milk.
In relation to Brexit, he said the merger will give farmers more options.
“The UK has historically always tried to feed its population by getting the cheapest food possible. Our future is not mainly with the UK, it is with other high-value markets such as in Europe,” he said.
Dairy farming in Stamullen, Co. Meath, Joe Leonard is a Lakeland supplier and shareholder who also said the mood in relation to the merger “appears to be all positive with no negative sentiment”.
Concluding, he said: “It suited graphically because the catchment areas completely combine – it’s a merger that should have happened a long time ago.”