PLANS by First Milk to close its Arran creamery and scale back operations at Campbeltown have sent shockwaves through the dairy communities in those two areas.

In April, 2018, UK dairy co-operative, First Milk said it wanted to sell the Torrylinn creamery on the Isle of Arran and the Campbeltown Creamery as they were no longer ‘core to its business strategy for the future’.

However, despite what First Milk has described as a ‘significant effort over the last year’, the company has announced it had started talks with staff over the closure of the site on Arran, with no buyer in sight.

It has also been in negotiations to sell the Campbeltown facility to a group of its milk suppliers, with involvement from the Scottish Government, and, despite being ‘hopeful’ of sealing a deal over that creamery, the co-op has now said it had also started to consult with staff about scaling down the operations.

First Milk chief executive, Shelagh Hancock, said: “We are deeply disappointed that it has not been possible to conclude a sale of Arran Creamery. We remain hopeful that it will be possible to secure the future of the Campbeltown creamery in the ownership of the local farmers and the proposed changes that we have announced will help with that.”

She continued: “We fully appreciate that these developments have significant consequences for colleagues at the creameries and the local community, but it is important that we act in the best interest of the wider business and our farmer members and continue with the solid progress we have made in strengthening and developing First Milk.”

Managing director of Arran Dairies, Alastair Dobson, said it was devastating news for the island: “We’ve known for some time that it was in the offing, but that doesn’t make it any less of a terrible time for the community. It’s obviously First Milk’s decision and it has given producers an idea of their timescale, but due to the sensitive nature of the process, I’m not at liberty to disclose specific details at this time.”

He added: “Really, it’s devastating for the whole of the Scottish dairy industry. We need to be careful or there won’t be a Scottish trade in dairy products.”

James Barbour, the chairman of the Kintyre milk producers’ working group, added: “It is important to retain processing capacity on Kintyre for the long-term security of the dairy farmers here. First Milk has worked hard to secure a sustainable future for Campbeltown Creamery over the last year and we are working together to try to secure the site for the future, although there is still considerable work to do to bring this to a conclusion.”

Scottish dairy farm figures were also published by the Scottish Dairy Cattle Association this week, showing that, for the first six months of the year, herd numbers were down again to 888 herds, but cow numbers continue to increase and now stand at 180,293 – an increase of 755 from January – making the average herd size 203.

NFU Scotland milk committee chairman, John Smith, himself a dairy farmer in Kintyre, said: “The latest figures from the SDCA on the Scottish dairy herd reflect the long term trend which shows the number of dairy farms falling but dairy cow numbers increasing as remaining herds expand. There have also been a number of new herds established which underlines our belief that there is a great future for dairy production in Scotland, but there needs to be positive change across the whole supply chain from cow to consumer.

“However, recent announcements regarding the creamery closure on Arran and the uncertainty around Campbeltown show how exposed some of our remote, but highly productive milk fields are. Ensuring a vibrant future for dairy production in all parts of Scotland is hugely important, not least because of the significant impact it has on the wider rural economy.

“Dairy farming is capital intensive, has high labour requirements and is constantly adapting to legislative change or consumer demands. For dairy farming to thrive, the industry needs a profitable return from producing milk to allow that level of necessary re-investment,” pointed out Mr Smith.

The closure of the facility on Arran and the sale of the site on Kintyre would leave First Milk with just two creameries – one in the Lake District, in England, and another in Haverfordwest, in Wales.