The great and the good of Kerry Co-op and Kerry Plc gathered in the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney on Saturday 13 January to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the co-op. Denis Brosnan, Kerry Group CEO Edmond Scanlon and recently elected chair of Kerry Co-op, James Tangney, were among the attendance.

While that event was organised to mark and celebrate past successes, a much more important meeting for the future of Kerry dairy processing is scheduled to be held on the evening of Thursday, 18 January. At that meeting, suppliers to Kerry will be invited to join a producer organisation. That body will be open to negotiation with both Kerry and other processors for their milk. It’s important to note that suppliers to Kerry are under contract until April 2026, but are not tied beyond that date.

Ahead of this week’s meeting, the Irish Farmers Journal sat down with some of the people involved to discuss the goals of the producer organisation, and how they might be achieved.

Barrister Ciaran Dolan – an approved producer organisation facilitator, and formerly general secretary of the ICMSA – explained some of the background as to what a producer organisation is, and how one would function in the context of Irish dairy.

He said that producer organisations are allowed under EU law in order to strengthen the negotiating position of farmers, as primary food producers generally have very little leverage in talks with large multinational buyers.


The producer organisation that the Kerry suppliers are forming is to be called the Munster Dairy Producer Organisation (MDPO), with Dolan saying he expects to get formal approval for it from the Department of Agriculture in the very near future. MDPO has a steering committee in place which is made up of 21 farmers from across counties Kerry, Limerick and Clare.

Once the producer organisation’s registration is approved, it can be opened for membership. The size of that membership will be the first test of the organisation – the more members the MDPO gets onto its book, the more leverage it will have in any negotiation with processors. If MDPO cannot get enough Kerry suppliers into its membership, then it is unlikely to be a success.

Dolan is confident that the organisation will be a success. He points to the considerable changes that have happened recently with the structure of the Irish dairy industry, particularly when it comes to factors which have changed the supply and demand balance for dairy in Ireland. “The position of milk suppliers has changed materially, to their advantage, in the last few years,” he said.

Presuming MDPO gets a significant membership in place, it would then be in a position to negotiate a formal master contract with a processor for farmers’ milk, from which individual supply contracts would be drawn.

Dolan says it is important to understand that the MDPO would never take ownership of any milk – the enforceable contract would be between the farmer and the processor with whom MDPO make any agreement.

The producer organisation’s members would have a vote on any master contract before it could come into force.

Dolan emphasised that once MDPO is up and running, they would be very happy to talk to Kerry about being suppliers to that organisation. He is convinced that Kerry would also be very keen to talk to the producer organisation. His logic is that Kerry has so many sunken costs in processing in Ireland, they would have no choice other than to try to do a deal. Add to that the possible scarcity of milk in the country over the coming years, and MDPO could end up having considerable leverage in any such talks.

All in all, it seems like a solid plan from the point of view of the potential members of MDPO.


However, it is worth taking a step back and looking at why MDPO is needed at all. For that view, the Irish Farmers Journal sat down with Martin Crowe, the Limerick farmer who chaired the meeting where the idea of forming a producer group was first aired.

“It’s from sheer frustration. We’re not getting a fair price for our product.

“There’s no goodwill between Kerry Group and its milk producers, the relationship is in a very bad place and they are making no effort to correct it.”

Crowe added that he had seen people at meetings and protests who had surprised him. People who he said were “Kerry through and though” and who obviously have had enough.

One of the biggest problems to date for suppliers like Crowe seems to be that Kerry has flatly refused to engage with them. This adds to the attraction in setting up the producer organisation – if it becomes large enough, it will become too big to ignore. The hope seems to be that instead of having to protest in Listowel to be heard, the suppliers will have Kerry coming to them for talks.


Like Dolan, Crowe is hopeful that a deal with Kerry could be done. “I’d prefer to stay supplying Kerry myself. We’re doing it a long time. But there has to be a firm commitment, and that commitment would have to be honoured.”

Obviously, the reference to honouring commitments is a clear nod to the “leading milk price” promise that has long been a bone of contention between Kerry Group and its suppliers.

However, for Crowe at least, it is not entirely about price. When asked what his desired outcome from this entire process is, he said “we don’t expect to get the top price all the time, but we need a fair price for all it is that we do. But also we need to feel like we’re appreciated for all that we do.”

Clearly Crowe, and possibly many other Kerry suppliers, feel that the lack of engagement from Kerry Group in recent times has done a lot to damage relationships between both sides. That lack of engagement has also probably done a lot to drive suppliers towards forming this producer organisation.

Ciaran Dolan put it most succinctly when he said “a producer organisation would have no place in a functioning co-op”.