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NDC campaign was 'over the top' claims Dale Farm

The National Dairy Council's (NDC) campaign to promote milk produced only in the Republic of Ireland has been over the top, according to the boss of Northern Ireland's biggest dairy processor.

David Dobbins is the CEO of United Dairy Farmers (UDF), which processes approximately 50pc of the Northern Irish milk pool and controls the Dale Farm brand.

"We met with the IFA recently to discuss this issue and they accepted that the NDC has gone overboard," said Mr Dobbins.

The comments came after Mr Dobbin publically criticised the NDC campaign featuring Irish rugby star Paul O'Connell at a recent dairy industry meeting in London.

IFA liquid milk chairman, Teddy Cashman, defended the campaign by claiming that it was no different from the British industry's 'Little Red Tractor' initiative.

However, Mr Dobbins cautioned that the campaign could be a double-edged sword long-term. "You are effectively creating a blueprint for how British dairy processors roll out a similar programme in Britain and Northern Ireland. There is a huge swing towards British-produced food that could hurt you guys." Figures from Bord Bia show that Ireland sold €3.66bn of food in British and Northern Irish markets in 2011.

Speaking at the Balmoral show in Belfast last week, Mr Dobbins also suggested that Irish food processors wanted to have it both ways. "Your Irish beef processors practically market themselves as being part of the British Isles and yet your dairy industry wants a two-tier market," he said.

"We are being locked out of new markets, despite the fact that we can supply product cheaper and have a milk curve better suited (than the Republic) to supplying fresh product year-round."

However, Mr Dobbins was upbeat about the potential of the Northern dairy industry to continue expanding output over the coming years. "We've increased output by about 40pc over the last 20 years and expect 2-3pc growth again this year, despite the poor weather and market prices at the moment," he said.

The UDF boss was also confident of milk prices re-bounding from their current slump before Christmas. "We're hopeful that we're at rock bottom by now. Adverse weather across much of Europe, poorer prices and the fact that many EU states are at their limit in terms of quota will all help dampen supplies this year. It wouldn't take much to shift the balance."

Mr Dobbins believes that a 1-2pc reduction in supplies would be enough to bring prices back up. "We've also tried to move away from volatile product lines such as butter and powders into cheese and whey which should help," he added.

Indo Farming