'The last trough lasted 18 months - this one has been going for 27 months'
Dairygold CEO Jim Woulfe is optimistic about the processor’s prospects
"Last year was testing. This one's going to be really challenging," says Jim Woulfe with a wry smile.
The Dairygold CEO knows all about the reality at farm level, with the youngest of his four brothers still milking cows at home on the family farm near Ardagh in Limerick.
But the eldest of the Woulfes has come a long way since his days studying Dairy Science at UCC. Back then, in 1979, he took a job with Ballyclough co-op, which merged with Mitchelstown to form Dairygold in 1990.
He worked his way up from the factory floor to head of agri-business in 2002 and became CEO in 2009, after the co-op parted company with Jerry Henchy in controversial circumstances.
While some observers might have predicted the role to be somewhat of a poisoned chalice following the acrimony that surrounded Mr Henchy's departure, Woulfe appears to relished the role of leading an organisation that was heading into its first expansionary phase in decades.
A massive capital investment plan commenced that has seen €215m sunk into creating extra capacity at its main processing sites at Mitchelstown and Mallow.
The new CEO also had the wind at his back with milk prices rising to new highs for much of his first five years in charge. That all started to change in early 2014 when milk prices careered into one of the most prolonged slumps in recent memory.
"The last trough [in 2009] lasted for about 18 months. This one has been going on for 27 months," admitted Woulfe during press briefings on the co-op's annual results last week.