Dale Farm co-op makes largest investment in Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry 

Dairy cooperative Dale Farm has just announced the largest investment in Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry.

Dairy cooperative Dale Farm has just announced the largest investment in Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry.

The company has commenced work on a £70 million upgrade of its cheddar processing facility in Cookstown.

This investment is expected to increase Dale Farm’s production capacity by 20,000 tonnes.

The plans see the dairy co-op integrating state-of-the-art technologies and equipment at the site, boosting production and making significant sustainability gains.

Strong customer growth

Dale Farm spokespersons said that the investment comes on the back of successive years of impressive growth for the cooperative and in response to continued customer growth across the UK, Europe and beyond, with the site already exporting cheddar to 40 countries worldwide.

Nick Whelan, group chief executive at Dale Farm, added that the investment will support growth and capability for the cooperative and position Dale Farm as a leading cheddar player in Europe.

“Dale Farm has built a strong reputation as a leader in cheddar production, and thanks to our reputation for quality, sustainability and consistency, we are seeing strong customer growth in the category.

“Key to our success is the dedication and ingenuity demonstrated on a daily basis by our team right across the business. We are already exporting to 40 countries, and with this investment, we want to build on that momentum and future proof our operation at Dunmanbridge for decades to come,” Nick said.

Capacity increase 

The works are set to be completed in February 2025. As well as improving and replacing existing site-wide services and utilities, the expansion will include a new high-speed automated cheese slicing line, an increased warehouse footprint and investment in new patented products and processes.

The investment will increase the site’s cheese capacity by 20,000 tonnes per year, while also expanding its whey protein concentrate (WPC) capacity.

It will incorporate the integration of advanced energy-efficient technologies, which, together with new production processes, will reduce the site’s carbon footprint by an estimated 4,500 tonnes per year when compared against milk powder production.

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Sustainability and profitability of co-op farmers 

Mr Whelan said: “We want to continue to lead the sector in Northern Ireland and beyond and cement our region as a global leader in quality, sustainability, and innovation. We have been granted a patent for cheddar produced at the site and are onboarding new technologies and digital transformation.

“We’re also investing in sustainability, and as a result of this expansion, our carbon footprint will see a significant reduction, marking another important milestone on our journey towards net zero.”

Nick Whelan, group chief executive at Dale Farm.

The site currently supports over 1,100 families in the local area, with 345 employed at the facility and a further 760 farms supplying milk to it.

Mr Whelan added: “The sustainability and profitability of our farmers and their businesses are at the heart of every decision we make as a cooperative.

“Thanks to the success of our strategy and growth, we are in a position where we can make an investment of this scale while continuing to pay a competitive milk price.

“This investment will be transformative not just for Dale Farm but for the Northern Ireland rural economy. We have big plans for the future and are looking forward to the next step of this journey.”

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