1,000 Dairygold suppliers vent anger over contracts
Confusion and anger among Dairygold suppliers about the co-op's milk supply agreement reached boiling point on Wednesday night when around 1,000 farmers gathered in Mallow, Co Cork.
Dairygold chief executive Jim Woulfe was shouted down by furious shareholders who objected to his presence at what was billed as an information meeting organised by the Concerned Dairygold Farmers Action Group.
Mr Woulfe, along with the co-op's legal representative, solicitor Darragh Hogan of McCann Fitzgerald, approached the top table midway through the meeting, to the consternation of some farmers in the room, who began shouting their objections.
"No more Dairygold. This is a farmers' meeting. We are sick of hearing from Dairygold," roared Tipperary farmer Eoin Bourke.
Amidst the uproar, Mr Woulfe insisted that he had been invited to the meeting by the action group's chairman Eugene Sheehan.
"I was invited here by Eugene to give my opinion but I'm being ridiculed and abused by people.
"I am employed by you and [speaking] is the least I'm entitled to do," he claimed.
During the meeting, solicitor Oliver Ryan-Purcell advised farmers to seek their own individual legal opinion before signing the document.
"I simply can't see how you could sign a contract that is so open and so one-sided on the face of it," he told the audience, referring to parts of the document that leave it to Dairygold's discretion to change the agreement.
He added he was unsure of what contractual weight the clarification document, issued by Dairygold to farmers last week, would hold.
What would happen to farmers who did not sign the agreement, and could they continue to supply milk to the co-op, were among questions raised at the meeting.
Mr Hogan said farmers who did not sign the agreement could continue to supply milk to the co-op and were obliged to under co-op rules.
Another farmer asked if he could form a partnership with someone outside of Dairygold under the terms of the agreement, to which Mr Woulfe said he could and that the co-op actively encouraged partnerships.
Cork farmer Sean O'Brien asked if any other legal firm, aside from McCann Fitzgerald, had been asked to assess the milk supply agreement.
Mr Hogan told him that Dublin-based firm Arthur Cox had seen the contract and deemed it to be reasonable and in order.
Another farmer asked if certain conditions of the contract could be omitted for some suppliers, to which the answer was no.
In assessing clause six of the milk supply agreement, Mr Ryan-Purcell pointed out that it gave Dairygold the right to transfer a farmer's contract to another party.
"That could mean another co-op; God forbid anything should happen to Dairygold and it was taken over," he said.
However, Mr Hogan maintained the clause was designed to give the co-op flexibility to assign contracts to a smaller subsidiary for tax purposes only.
Another farmer received rapturous applause when he claimed: "We could have 100 meetings and litter that stage with expensive solicitors but we cannot sort out this rag of a document until it is torn to shreds and we start again from scratch."
The meeting ended with a show of hands in which the vast majority of farmers indicated they were unhappy with the current milk supply agreement.