A LEADING player in the county’s dairy industry, First Milk, has recorded a strong year for milk price, turnover, profit and overall financial stability.

In its annual report and accounts for the year ending March 31 2020, published this week, the farmer-owned co-operative revealed its turnover increased by four percent to £282.8m, compared with £272.3m the previous year.

The owner of the Lake District Creamery at Aspatria also reported that operating profit also grew by four percent from £7.2m to £7.5m, and pre-tax profit was up from £3.209m in 2019 to £5.014m.

The group’s net debt decreased by 20 percent to £33.1m (£41.1m in the previous year) and its net assets were up by 25 percent to £39.8m.

First Milk has around 700 members, with over 250 of those in Cumbria, and handles more than 800m litres of milk, with no resignations for more than 18 months, according to the report.

Ainstable dairy farmer and First Milk farmer director, Robert Craig, said First Milk had seen a ‘good, solid few years’ since the turnaround. “We have done what we set out to do. We have a good team and the whole culture is good with everyone working very hard.”

Chief Executive, Shelagh Hancock, said: “The year ending 31 March 2020 saw us deliver business growth and development, further strengthening our financial position, whilst continuing to return value to our farmer members, who own the business. We have also launched our First4Milk Pledge – a broad commitment to sustainable dairy and a celebration of the leading standards on our members’ farms.

“Despite the uncertainties around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and with Brexit looming, First Milk is well-placed for the future, as a business that has strong collaborative partnerships and the scale to be relevant in the marketplace, whilst remaining agile and adaptable. Our vision for the future remains resolute – we are working together to deliver dairy prosperity.”

In April 2020, the co-op paid its first year’s member premium of 0.25p/litre for all litres consigned in the year to 31 March 2020. This will increase to 0.5p/litre from April 2020, with payment due to members in April 2021.

After year-end, First Milk completed refinancing with Wells Fargo, agreeing extended lending facilities to 31 July 2024, which the group said demonstrates its financial stability.

During the 12 months covered by the report, the group has grown its UK cheese sales and significantly increased its overseas cheese business, now supplying more than 26 countries.