Stark warning issued by dairy industry as peak approaches

The approaching peak production is occupying the minds of the Irish dairy industry as it battles the implications of Covid-19 while keeping milk processed, according to Dairy Industry Ireland (DII), which has issued a stark warning on the matter.

With expansion, the processing capacity in Ireland is extremely tight and the loss of any plant due to loss of key staff from the coronavirus or mechanical failure has the potential to be catastrophic for farmers and the cooperative system alike.

Commenting on the challenge, DII director Conor Mulvihill praised the efforts of the processors to date, stating: “This is a national issue – not confined to any one co-op.

There has been massive industry collaboration across processors, Government and farmers as we fight to keep milk collected and processed.

The director highlighted that the spread of Covid-19 has resulted in “enormous logistical efforts” to safely collect milk even to date, ahead of the peak period.

“The industry has seen huge commitment from everyone that they will do everything possible to help one another and their farmer suppliers,” he added.

“We have engaged in critical contingency planning across the companies to deal with this challenge, modelling different scenarios.

We estimate that spare Irish processing capacity could be as low as 1% to 2% at May peak.

Continuing, Mulvihill underlined what this means, stating:

“There is a huge danger if anything goes wrong – not to mind the Covid challenge.

“Our production managers are estimating that 2020 peak supply could be as high as an unprecedented 250 million litres per week.

Put simply, if one processor goes down – the knock-on consequences would be unimaginable for the entire industry.

“As this crisis develops and deepens, our concern is escalating because of potential employee Covid-19 positive cases in processing sites may cause a production line or even a full factory to go down.

“This is something that we cannot afford and would have serious consequences for farmers and companies alike.”

The director warned that processing difficulties have reported with dairy industry colleagues in Italy, Croatia and France – but added that efforts are underway to avoid similar issues here.

We are actively working with our regulatory authorities to guide us on what we can do in the event that we cannot collect or process milk.

“DII is working with Government and at EU level to communicate Irish dairy’s unique exposure to the crisis, underlining the long-term financial health of our companies and suppliers,” Mulvihill concluded.