OUT AND ABOUT AT BALMORAL SHOW
Michael Fisher Northern Standard Thursday 21st May 2015 p.24
Monaghan was again well represented at this year’s Balmoral Show. Town of Monaghan Co-Op and Lakeland Dairies both had a presence to meet suppliers and to promote their dairy business. Among the thousands of visitors were several from Monaghan, who made the journey along the motorway to the new showgrounds at the former Maze prison, outside Lisburn.
But for some, there were long traffic delays, particularly exiting from the large car parks. It was the biggest Balmoral Show in history and the organisers, the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, are determined to make next year even better.
At the Lakeland Dairies stand, Group Chief Executive Michael Hanley was in upbeat mood about the future of the dairy industry. He told the Nothern Standard it was important to retain a strong dairy industry in Ireland for the next generation. The Group based in Killeshandra, County Cavan, processes about one billion litres of quality milk annually into a range of products. Lakeland Dairies reported a 15% increase in revenues to €625.8 million for 2014, yielding an operating profit of €12.9 million, up by 10% on the previous year.
The food service division uses automated, modern production technologies to make dairy products for use in food preparation and by consumers internationally. The food ingredients division extracts the constituents of fresh milk to offer a range of milk powders, proteins and liquid dairy fats. The Group is a leading provider of dairy produce to Ireland’s Kerrygold brand .
As well as the home market, Lakeland Dairies exports large volumes of dairy produce to the UK, Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and other international markets. The agri-business division is a producer-focused business supporting thousands of farmers with nutritional information and high performance products.
Mr Hanley was keen to point out that Lakeland Dairies had begun construction of a €36 million milk powder processing plant alongside its current operation at Bailieborough in County Cavan. As reported in this paper two weeks ago, the ‘Dryer Number 3’ is expected to come on stream in a year’s time. The farmer-owned co-operative currently produces 90,000 tonnes of milk powders a year and this will rise to 130,000 tonnes on completion of the new plant. The same site also produced 24,000 tonnes of butter and butter products.
The overall development will lead to the creation of 81 jobs across the Lakeland Dairies Group over a five year period. Up to 180 construction jobs will also be created.
Following the abolition of milk quotas last month, annual milk supply to Lakeland Dairies is expected to increase by some 40% to over one billion litres by 2020. The Chief Executive says the development is designed to ensure that the co-operative is well positioned to take advantage of all future market opportunities for its milk producers.
Michael Hanley said there was a growing requirement for high quality milk powders and functional ingredients in nutritional, pharmaceutical and beverage markets, where the company serves leading food manufacturers and infant formula customers worldwide. He said the Group saw a consistently growing opportunity in areas including infant formula, dairy proteins and health-related nutritional products including lactose and whey, among other categories.
TOWN OF MONAGHAN CO-OP Town of Monaghan Co-op with its new Chief Executive Gabriel D’Arcy is one of the longest established dairy co-operatives in Ireland. It was founded in 1901 by a group of Monaghan farmers and business people, who came together in order to own and control their own business for the long-term benefit of its dairy farmers.
Over a hundred years later, it remains a farmer-owned and controlled co-operative, still based on the same values of long-term sustainability, mutual responsibility and equality and equity. With milk suppliers in the Republic and Northern Ireland, Town of Monaghan currently handle and process 500 million litres of milk annually from 1,000 farmers at its site in Coolshannagh, Monaghan and at TMC Dairies (NI) Ltd in Artigavan, near Strabane in County Tyrone.
Its range of products includes whole milk and skim milk powders, which are primarily for the export market as well as fresh milk, buttermilk, butter, yogurts and desserts all of which are marketed in Ireland under the “Champion” brand.
The Co-op, which reported net current assets of more than €34m in its balance sheet at the end of 2013, has been considering the best options for investment in development of its business.
Town of Monaghan has been in discussions with Ballyrashane Co-Op in North Antrim, the oldest dairy in Northern Ireland, about a possible merger. It produces milk, butter and a specialist cheese for the Greek market. Both have reiterated their view that a new merged entity would create a powerful new market force.
They say their complementary geography and production facilities, technologies, and customer listings, together with the combined balance sheet strength offer the unique opportunity to create a true leader in the competitive Ulster dairy food sector, focused on innovation and competitiveness. Ballyrashane has blue-chip customers, such as Marks & Spencer. Its butter plant is described as one of the most modern in the country. Both co-ops employ around 150 people.
RUAS EXPANSION PLANS AT BALMORAL
Colin McDonald, Chief Executive of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, was delighted with this year’s show, which is estimated to have been attended by more than 100,000 people over the three days.
He told the Northern Standard: “This year’s show is ten per cent bigger than last year. It really has been perfect conditions for the livestock exhibitors, who have put a lot of time and effort into preparing their animals for showing.” He said the biggest factor regarding attendance was the weather, and that the sunshine until Friday afternoon had helped to bring the crowds out.
This year’s show was the third on the new Maze site, and included the new sustainable village. Next year’s show will be bigger again and unrecognisable with the new 6,000sq metre Eikon exhibition centre dominating the site.
Work has already begun on the building, with the concrete foundations finished just last week. The work was halted to allow the show to take place but is set to resume next Wednesday. The Eikon will be the biggest exhibition space in Northern Ireland when it is completed in September.
Mr McDonald revealed the RUAS had already received bookings for the new venue, which will host the Winter Fair later this year. A ‘green energy’ park is planned in the longer term, with a focus on solar power and the generation of electricity from biomass, windmills and solar panels. Asked about the timescale for expansion, Mr McDonald said the work was dependent on the flow of finance from the redevelopment of the show’s previous site in Balmoral in south Belfast.
The RUAS is retaining the front section of the site while the rest is being redeveloped, around half for housing and half for commerce, with the possibility of a major hotel group coming on board, Mr McDonald explained.
When asked about whether a new link road from the M1 motorway would be built to make the Maze site more accessible, the Chief Executive said that was a matter for the site as a whole, and insisted the show was able to handle its traffic without a problem. The flow of cars was even better than for a concert at the Odyssey arena in Belfast, he said.
The main political parties were represented at the show, including the DUP and Sinn Féin. They have yet to agree on how the rest of the Maze site will be redeveloped. The North’s First Minister Peter Robinson blamed Sinn Féin for blocking the building of a new road to link the site with the nearby motorway.
But deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness hit back, claiming Sinn Féin had kept its side of the bargain by backing the move of the Balmoral Show to the Maze site. He claimed the DUP had let it down by not backing the creation of a peace-building centre at the site of the former high security prison.
Mr McGuinness attended the Department of Agriculture’s traditional breakfast at the show, hosted by the Minister, Michelle O’Neill. They were joined during the day by party colleague, Matt Carthy, the MEP from Carrickmacross.
The Minister said the farming sector was facing significant challenges at the present time but was contributing to the economic growth of the North. She said her department had a vital role to play in opening new markets and supporting exports. She was hopeful that 2015 would prove even more exciting in terms of furthering new market access across all meat sectors. The Minister also highlighted her recent efforts to open doors for exports in China, particularly for beef and chicken. She hoped that further growth in dairy exports would hopefully play a part in helping to turn around the recent decline in milk prices.
Sinn Féín MEP Matt Carthy who is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, said that an all-island approach to agriculture was required to address a number of issues affecting the agriculture sector. He told the Northern Standard:
“The past 12 months in particular have highlighted the impact of partition on our agriculture sector. First we saw the huge impact of the border on our beef sector when issues arose in relation to the label of origin on cattle reared in the south but finished in the North. Now we see a similar issue has emerged for sheep and lamb reared in the North but finished in the South”.
“I have spoken regularly with the Stormont Minister, Michelle O’Neill, who has engaged extensively with Minister Simon Coveney T.D., to have these issues addressed in a united manner. I have offered my full support at a EU level to any proposed efforts. The simple fact of the matter is that the issues affecting farmers in the North are the same as those affecting farmers in the South and our economy is too small to sustain partition”. Mr Carthy added:
“Whilst there remains a strong tradition of cross-border trade, it is vitally important if we are to promote agricultural produce effectively on the world stage that we work together on an all-island basis to overcome the challenges facing the sector. Moves towards a voluntary “Island of Ireland” labelling system are welcome. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that an integrated all-Ireland agriculture structure is required to ensure that Irish agriculture, North and South, not only is sustainable into the future but can reach its full potential”.
Once again it was a very successful show for Glaslough brothers David and Kenny Boyd. In the Holstein class, Glaslough Miss Petra EX93 won two awards, for mature cow in-milk (£80) and 50-tonne cow (£80) along with a special prize of £50 presented by Devenish Nutrition and the Craigbet Rosan Perpetual Challenge Cup, presented by Holstein NI. Another of their Holstein herd, Glaslough Miss Persia VG, took first prize (£80) in the senior heifer in- milk section.
Ashley Fleming from Seaforde in County Down won the overall dairy interbreed (champion) with his Jersey cow in-milk, Potterswalls Glams Elisha. It was her second Dairy Inter-Breed Championship title in a row. It was also the Flemings’ seventh Balmoral inter-breed championship, having done the double twice.
“We are truly delighted with today’s result,” said Ashley Fleming. “Elisha calved a few weeks ago and she really is looking tremendously well. What makes it all the more special is the fact she is home bred. We also bred her sire.”
The cow is currently giving almost 50 litres per day with milk solids exceeding 10%. “Jersey cows produce very high quality milk,” Ashley explained. This is a key attraction of the breed, which is growing in popularity with milk producers.
For the first time at the show, the crowds were able to see a robotic milking display using Lely machines. A temporary dairy was set up with forty cows from Draynes Dairies in Lisburn waiting their turns to be milked.
Fifteen years ago North Antrim milk producers Bryan Watton, and his son Mark, from Ballybogey near Ballymoney were the first farmers in Ireland to purchase two Lely Astronaut A2 robots. “Robotic milking was revolutionary at the time,” recalls Bryan. “Several of the household names involved in the manufacture of conventional milking parlours were trying to develop an automated system. By 1999 I had made up my mind that I was going to go down that route, and after studying the various options available I opted for Lely”.
Brian continued: “Most of the other companies were dabbling and trying to incorporate parts of a parlour onto a robot. I was impressed with Lely, as their engineers were new to milking systems and started with a clean sheet. In my opinion Lely was away ahead of the competition with its concept and design.”
The Lely Astronaut A2 robots were installed back-to-back, and have been working on-farm since 4th April 4th 2000. Town of Monaghan Co-Op told me five of their suppliers now use robot milking machines.
After 15 years both Bryan and Mark are still as enthusiastic about Lely and robotic milking as they were when they introduced the machines. “Robots transformed our farm, and there is no way we would even consider going back to conventional milking,” stressed Bryan. “In fact, we wouldn’t rule out purchasing a third Lely robot in the future”, he said. The father and son team milk 150 commercial cows producing an average yield of over 9,500kgs at 3.95% butterfat and 3.28% protein.
MONAGHAN MUSHROOMS AWARD
In the food hall, a Monaghan producer for Marks & Spencer was acknowledged for his excellence in innovation in the M&S ‘Farming for the Future’ awards. Geoff Taylor of Monaghan Mushrooms in Tyholland received a £1,000 prize and has been entered into an ‘Overall Farming for the Future Champion’ award for 2015, to be presented later this year. The innovation award recognises producers who are pushing the boundaries in their sector.
As Head of Product Development, Geoff has been key to co-ordinating and driving forward the progress of several exciting new business initiatives at Monaghan Mushrooms. Geoff said: “I come from a farming background and whilst agriculture will always be in my blood, I feel that product development is the really fun and exciting part of the food industry.
“One of the most interesting products I’ve worked on has been the development of Vitamin D mushrooms, which are now exclusively available in over 200 M&S stores across the UK and Ireland. With research showing that most adults in the UK are Vitamin D deficient, Geoff and his team of scientists and engineers set about developing a unique mushroom that could help reverse this situation.
With a passion for the environment, Geoff has also been instrumental in implementing changes to the packaging of M&S mushrooms. “Tyholland produces around 100 tonnes of mushrooms a week and because we are dealing with such large numbers, any small changes we can make to packaging really add up”, Geoff said.
A typical plastic mushroom punnet has now been redesigned to reduce its weight by 3 grams, which will result in over 5,700 kg of saved plastic each year. All punnet packaging material is now also completely recyclable and Geoff has even gone as far as to redesign the size of mushroom punnets to ensure that more can fit in each delivery crate, thus reducing the number of journeys needed to deliver the same amount of produce to store.
Geoff concluded: “The joy of product development is that there are always new projects on the horizon and things that can be improved upon. I am really passionate about my work and can’t wait to launch more of my new ideas in the future.”
Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture and Fisheries at M&S said: “The Farming for the Future awards are now in their eighth year, acknowledging the dedication and commitment our farmers and growers are making towards the company’s ‘Plan A’ eco and ethical programme, and sharing best practice amongst the agricultural community across Ireland and the UK”. The plan aims to make M&S the world’s most sustainable major retailer.
Mr McLean continued: “Geoff is a very worthy winner and has proved this be demonstrating his innovative thinking, commercial success and social responsibility in the way he manages and executes his business. Our judges were particularly impressed with Geoff’s enthusiasm for creating new products with added health benefits, his commitment to reducing waste and passion for the environment”.
THE ‘CHICKEN CHALLENGE’
During the show, the Food Standards Agency in the North encouraged visitors to support Food Safety Week, which runs until Sunday 24th May, by undertaking a ‘Chicken Challenge’ and pledging to do the little things that keep their loved ones safe from food poisoning. Chicken is a traditional meal time favourite, whether it’s in a sandwich, a traditional roast dinner or sizzling on the barbecue. But there’s only one thing not to love about it. Chicken is one of the biggest causes of food poisoning, all because of a nasty germ called campylobacter. Among those who visited the FSA stand to learn more about food hygiene was a group from Monaghan town, Lynsey Forde, Laura Louise Reay and Aoife Murphy.
Dates have already been confirmed for next year’s Balmoral Show. It will be held at the Maze site on Wednesday 11th, Thursday 12th and Friday 13th May 2016.