With milk production nearing its peak, the dairy processing industry is fighting to keep milk moving as it battles the implications of Covid-19.
Expansion has meant that the processing capacity is almost at its limit in Ireland, according to Dairy Industry Ireland (DII).
It said that the loss of any plant due to loss of key staff from Covid-19 or mechanical failure has the potential to be catastrophic for farmers and the cooperative system alike.
Conor Mulvihill, Dairy Industry Ireland director, commented:“This is a national issue – not confined to any one co-op. There has been massive industry collaboration across processors, government and farmers as we fight to keep milk collected and processed."
The spread of COVID-19 has resulted in enormous logistical efforts to safely collect milk even prior to the peak period, he added.
“The industry has seen a huge commitment from everyone that they will do everything possible to help one another and their farmer suppliers."
"We have engaged in critical contingency planning across the companies to deal with this challenge, modelling different scenarios. We estimate that spare Irish processing capacity could be as low as 1% to 2% at May peak.”
The DII director stated that plans are being put in place should such a disaster occur.
“As this crisis develops and deepens, our concern is escalating because of potential employee Covid-19 positive cases in processing sites may cause a production line or even a full factory to go down.”
“This is something that we cannot afford and would have serious consequences for farmers and companies alike. We have seen processing difficulties reported with our colleagues in Italy, Croatia and France."
DII revealed it is "actively working" with its regulatory authorities for guidance on what can be done in the event that milk cannot be collected or processed.
“Dairy Industry Ireland is working with the government and at EU-level to communicate Irish dairy’s unique exposure to the crisis, underlining the long-term financial health of our companies and suppliers,” Mulvihill concluded.