8 June 2001

Farmers relieved that First Milk is purchaser

FIRST Milk, the co-operative formed by the merger of Axis and Scottish Milk, has ended Dairy Crests bid to buy a west Wales creamery.

"Producers are absolutely jubilant that Dairy Crest will not be buying Aeron Valley Cheese from the residual board of Milk Marque," said Lewis Griffith, executive officer for the Farmers Union of Waless Ceredigion county branch.

"Many farmers looked at the companys track record of plant closures in Wales and feared that it wanted to buy the creamery just to close it."

Farmer Edwin Davies, one of two partners who built the plant on his land, led an outspoken campaign against its sale to Dairy Crest, which was backed by members of both the Welsh farming unions, creamery staff and Farmers for Action.

Local politicians also attempted, and failed, to get cast iron assurances from the company that cheese production would continue.

When a local agricultural forum urged the vendors to block the sale to Dairy Crest it was told that all Milk Marques assets must be disposed of for the best possible price.

The Aeron Valley creamery employs over 60 workers and, following the recent investment of around £2.2m, it has the capacity to produce around 10,000t a year of mature cheddar and other cheeses.

John Duncan, chairman of First Milk, said the purchase was a major development of the co-ops milk processing activities.

"It will bring real benefits for the dairy industry in Wales," claimed Mr Duncan. "It safeguards employment at Aeron Valley and maintains an important processing facility under farmer ownership. We now have a business plan that will enable Aeron Valley to flourish, and we intend to drive up production capacity further.

First Milk has around 4500 farmer members and markets about 2.2bn litres of milk a year to the dairy processing sector. &#42