Cumbrian cheese vision looks a step nearer reality

Dairy Crest Direct members at the crux of the debate over Partners in Cheese’s proposed £50m Cumbrian cheese plant are believed to be in favour of taking the project forward.

Cumbria Vision, the north-west regeneration body which is arbitrating between the major parties, has begun to receive £250 cheques from DCD members after a meeting on 21 December.

These funds will represent a gesture of commitment in examining Dutch entrepreneur Ronald Akkerman’s business plan through a due diligence process.

DCD members’ milk currently goes to the Aspatria factory in Cumbria, which Dairy Crest sold to First Milk last autumn.

However, the farmers remain on Dairy Crest contracts until October and Partners in Cheese has been keen to secure their milk for the new cheese plant.

But DCD members insist the new venture is one of several options they are considering, which include supplying a major co-operative or independent milk buyer, or forming a separate group to market their own milk themselves.

A board of directors for the West Lakes Cheese Co-operative, which would belong to the farmers supplying Mr Akkerman’s factory, has not yet been formed.

But DCD members attending the meeting are said to have been generally positive. Quota broker Ian Potter, who chaired some of the discussion, said younger farmers in particular had expressed interest.

“Their reasoning is that, as dairy farmers, they are prepared to invest tens of thousands of pounds in new parlours or machinery, and £250 each, to get this business plan looked at, has to be right decision if they are to take a long term view.”

Cumbria Vision would not say how many cheques they had received, but admitted they were “suitably impressed” by the number so far and that cheques had started to arrive the day after the meeting.

It is believed the project may now be attracting interest from dairy farmers outside Dairy Crest Direct.

If, as seems increasingly likely, the Akkerman business plan does go before a due diligence panel, the process is expected to take several weeks.