One of Ireland's biggest exporters of dairy products, Ornua, has reported a strong trading performance for 2016 with higher turnover, earnings and operating profit. The group is best known for its Kerrygold brand.

Kevin Lane, the chief executive of Ornua, said the outlook was good for the group in the context of an uplift in the milk price in recent months. "We're very pleased with the performance for 2016. We have 18 operations and we deal with 110 markets. We delivered 18% growth in profits and we delivered a strong members' bonus at a time when milk prices weren't good."


Mr Lane also confirmed that the suspension of the milk levy would stand for the foreseeable future. "We had to decide last year whether it was fit for purpose. It made a lot of sense in the past when the business wasn't as profitable. We concluded farmers needed the input into their own business rather than into Ornua, which was having a decent run at growing its sales and profits." Kevin Lane said the levy was left on the basis that it could be reintroduced if necessary but that it was a decision for the board. 

The Ornua CEO said Brexit was already here for the dairy industry with the impact the vote has had on sterling and that the group was not countenancing the introduction of WTO tariffs. "If they were introduced, I don't know that any mitigating factor would make a difference. It would be disastrous for Irish industry at large. The magnitude would be into the hundreds of millions. No business can cope with that level of change. We're planning on the basis of continued sterling weakness, further food inflation and a negative impact on sales in the UK," he  stated. 

The US has been a particularly strong market for the Kerrygold brand with sales volumes up by a fifth last year. It is now the number one butter brand in the US, but Kevin Lane said talk of protectionism in the US was of concern. "Duties or levies would hurt growth, but, much like Brexit, you have to play with the cards you're dealt," he concluded.

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