Mark Blelock, a dairy farmer from Co. Antrim, has been appointed Chairman of the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland at the council’s recent AGM – while Dermot Farrell, General Manager of the Foodservice Division with Lakeland Dairies Co-op, has been elected Vice Chairman.

Both men, who will hold office for a two-year term, see the dairy council’s dual role of supporting the export of dairy products and the consumption of dairy products locally as vital.

Blelock, who – in partnership with his father – runs a dairy farm with a 140-cow herd, commented following his election. He said: “The past two years have been very challenging for the dairy industry, and dairy farmers in particular, but we have seen market upturn since the middle of last year – which has brought welcome relief.

However, the reality is that the dairy council’s work is more important than ever and has a critical role to play in supporting the industry to develop sales and add value to our local milk.

“Until recently the dairy council’s focus was on developing the consumption of dairy products in our home market. However, with most of our local milk going into products which are exported, it has now – with the assistance of EU funds – started to support export activity outside of the EU,” Blelock said.

I am confident that over the next few years this work will help our dairy companies expand their customer base and increase Northern Ireland’s dairy export business.

Meanwhile, the new Vice Chairman, Dermot Farrell, also spoke on the matter, stating: “It is only since becoming a member of the dairy council board that I have fully appreciated the work that is undertaken to increase consumption of milk and dairy products, not only in Northern Ireland, but also in third-country export markets.

Our membership of the European Milk Forum has allowed the dairy council to pull down more than £1.5 million in EU funding over the past eight years, and this has been used effectively to increase the consumption of milk and dairy products in Northern Ireland in particular.

“Even though our industry is export-oriented and is now being supported in these activities by the dairy council, it is important that we continue to develop and protect our home market – so as to have a good platform on which to build exports,” he concluded.