Two prominent dairy farmers have praised the work of the man who led a major player in the county’s milk industry back from the brink of financial ruin.

Robert Craig and Steve Dunning said the farmer-owned co-op’s chief executive Mike Gallacher, who last week announced he was moving on to pastures new, had done the job he had set out to do which was to turn around the fortunes of the failing farmer-owned co-op, First Milk.

“Although I am sad to see Mike go, he came in at a time when we needed someone to do the job of preventing First Milk from coming to a catastrophic end.

"He turned the business around but now it is equally important to have the right person in place to take us forward,” said Mr Craig, who farms at Ainstable.

Hailed as the saviour of the dairy giant, Mr Gallacher’s role from next month will be filled by former Medina Dairy managing director Shelagh Hancock.

Robert Craig “Shelagh knows exactly what she is doing. We are embarking on an exciting time,” said Mr Craig, who is a member of the dedicated group of First Milk members supplying Nestle at Dalston.

Over the last two years, Mr Gallacher has led a radical transformation of First Milk, which owns the Lake District Creamery at Aspatria.

It includes a £23m improvement in turnover between year ending March 2016 and the 12 months previous.

First Milk producer Steve Dunning, who farms at Raisgill Hall, near Shap, said he was “disappointed” at the news of Mr Gallacher’s departure.

“It is sad, but Mike has done the job he set out to do. He never said he was stopping. He has done a tremendous job. He got First Milk back on its feet,” said Mr Dunning.

Steve Dunning Of the new appointment of Shelagh Hancock, Mr Dunning, said she had a good track record. “Her speciality seems to be working with retailers, and this is what we will need as we leave the EU.”

Mr Gallacher said he was very proud of the transformation made by First Milk since he took over in March 2015.

“It is a very different business and customers and members can be confident in its future as a British Dairy Co-op. Over the coming weeks we will be working together to deliver a smooth transition to ensure no loss of momentum as our business performance continues to improve.”

Ms Hancock said she firmly believed in the principles of farmers working together for the benefit of each other. “I strongly believe that First Milk has got a bright future and as a British farmer-owned co-operative we’ve got great credentials to build on.”

Ms Hancock, who brings more than 25 years’ experience to the role, said there were still further opportunities to develop the core business. Prior to this she has held a number of senior executive positions at the farmer-owned co-operative Milk Link.