Northern Ireland

Irish processor's Brexit vow to NI dairy farmers

A tanker load of milk arrives at Aurivo's Co Roscommon plant
Image caption A tanker load of milk arrives at Aurivo's Co Roscommon plant

A major milk processor in the Irish Republic says it will stick by the Northern Ireland farmers that supply it, no matter how tricky things get over Brexit.

Aurivo takes 60m litres of milk each year from Northern Ireland to its plant at Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.

That is turned into butter and milk powders.

Around 60 of the 1,000 farmers who supply Aurivo are from Northern Ireland.

Image caption The automated milk powder line in the factory

They account for 16% of the co-operative's milk pool.

The company's chief executive, Aaron Forde said it hoped there would be an uncomplicated cross-border trading arrangement after the UK's exit from the EU.

But he said if they were faced with tariffs and customs delays, Aurivo would not abandon its suppliers here.

Image caption Aaron Forde is Chief Executive of Aurivo

"We've had a long-term arrangement with a lot of these guys up there and we don't walk away from those kind of long-term relationships easily.

"We also have customers for that milk in 50 markets around the world and that is important as well."

Mr Forde said, if necessary, Aurivo would look for a partnership arrangement with a processing company in Northern Ireland, so that milk could be dealt with locally.

Image caption The company sells large quantities of milk powder to Africa and the Middle East

Before the abolition of milk quotas in 2015, the company had to make separate returns to officials on either side of the border for its northern and southern supplies.

Mr Forde said those same processes could be used to deal with any bureaucracy created by new customs arrangements.

The milk powders made at Ballaghaderreen are sold across Africa and the Middle East under existing EU trade deals.

About 30% of all milk produced in Northern Ireland crosses the border for processing by a number of dairy companies.

But the bulk of it is processed locally with much of the produce sold in Great Britain, meaning it will not be subject to tariff or customs checks.

Dale Farm is the biggest company here, with 1,300 farmers and 1,000 employees.

Image caption More than half Dale Farm's milk is used to make cheddar cheese

Cheese is central to the firm's business, accounting for more than half of the 850m litres of milk Dale Farm collects every year.

Chief Executive Nick Whelan accepts his company is "reasonably well positioned for Brexit" after a decision five years ago to concentrate on supplying the UK market.

But he said they are not complacent.

They are concerned about the sustainability of some dairy farmers should subsidy payments be withdrawn.

And as a company with 22% of migrant workers, future rules around labour will be critical.

Image caption Nick Whelan of Dale Farm

"Uncertainty is the biggest issue we have around Brexit," he said.

"If one had certainty that would be a huge benefit."

Mr Whelan said Dale Farm had invested £60m in the business over the last five years.

But he said decisions around £30m of future investment were being delayed because the business case would depend on whether there was a hard or soft Brexit.