It was a perfect silage day in the second half of May, yet the Tirlán (formerly Glanbia Agribusiness) AGM was packed. The difference in farmer participation and subject matter compared with the Glanbia plc meeting was striking.
The justification for splitting the Glanbia plc and the new co-op Tirlán is clear. The new entity is the largest milk processor and the largest grain buyer in the country.
It now has spare capacity on the dairy side and is open to new entrants. This capacity to cope with extra milk is a result of the co-op winning a Supreme Court case taken in response to An Taisce’s attempt to stop the extra development at Belview.
It was the capacity of a firm such as Tirlán to fight an expensive legal battle the whole way that highlighted the need for a strong defence of farmer contributions to Irish society to be made to the general public.
We can easily become bewitched by the wave of multinational investment that should be welcomed into the country, but Jim Bergin, the Tirlán chief executive put up a map showing the cash flowing into each county serviced by the co-op, with the co-op responsible for generating €5.5bn worth of economic activity and over 19,000 livelihoods between farmers, input suppliers and processing.
The same type of map and figures could be done for Dairygold, Lakeland, Aurivo, the Carbery-centred west Cork group and others around the country.
This is a battle for the soul of the political and general population of Ireland that is going to have to be won. On the more normal run of business, 2022 is likely to go down in farming history as one of those extraordinary years.
The average price paid for milk was 63c/l – the previous peak was 39c/l in 2013, while the average price for green grain was €310/t. Farmers have already reacted to the dramatic fall in prices, with fertiliser sales by the group down by a remarkable 50%.
One of the key company targets given at the meeting was that a profit margin of 2.5% on sales was the aim. Farmers dealing with the new co-op will, I suspect, see this as reasonable and measurable.
Not as easily measurable will be the operational efficiency of the business which will be so critical to its long-term development, and to the prosperity of its farmer members.