The proposed merger between Lakeland and LacPatrick has been approved by shareholders at special general meetings (SGMs) on Tuesday.
In Cookstown, Co Tyrone, 96% of the LacPatrick shareholders present were first to vote in favour of the merger. Three resolutions put to the vote received between 95.9% and 96.2% of votes in favour.
The deal required more than 40 shareholders to attend the SGM. In the end, 448 farmers cast a ballot in Cookstown.
"This will create stability, scale, efficiency and further added value for our milk producers, together with enhanced global market access for our high-quality dairy products,” LacPatrick chair Andrew McConkey said.
'Competitive milk price'
The merger was also dependent on the outcome of an SGM of Lakeland shareholders, which was being held in Cavan. There, 97% of 938 votes were in favour of the merger.
"The new society being formed through this merger will continue to be farmer-owned and controlled while paying a sustainable and competitive milk price in line with market conditions into the future," said Lakeland chair Alo Duffy.
The deal required more than 75% of shareholders to vote in favour at each SGM.
The merger will need the approval of competition authorities on both sides of the Irish border.
Assuming it is approved, it should be completed in early 2019 and will create the second-largest dairy co-op in Ireland, with a milk pool close to 1.8bn litres from 3,200 suppliers.
The new entity, to be called Lakeland Dairies Co-operative Society Ltd, will become the largest milk buyer in NI. Its northern milk pool will be approximately 1.2bn litres, which is close to 50% of all milk produced in NI.
Lakeland chief executive Michael Hanley, who will manage the enlarged co-op, said that it would "deliver economies of scale and commercial synergies, processing increased volumes of milk and providing greater capability to address global customer needs for high-quality dairy foodservice, food ingredients and consumer products”.
Farm organisations have welcomed the merger vote.
IFA president Joe Healy called on the new co-op to pay a strong price to farmers. This is particularly critical in the context of Brexit, as both constituent co-ops have farmer members and processing facilities both sides of the border,” he said.
ICMSA president Pat McCormack said farmers would judge the new entity on the milk price paid. He hoped that the competition regulators would approve the merger as quickly as possible, enabling the management and board to begin delivering the efficiencies and benefits of the merger to their farmer-suppliers as quickly as possible.
Additional reporting by David Wright and Thomas Hubert.