The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has responded to reports that LacPatrick producers will not be paid their promised bonus this month.

The UFU’s president, Ivor Ferguson, outlined that this comes on top of a 1p/L reduction in LacPatrick’s base price.

“This is a double blow for the already unsettled suppliers, who only last month experienced issues over their monthly milk cheques,” he said.

These problems are emerging as the merger between LacPatrick and Lakeland Dairies reaches the end game.

The UFU described events as “worrying” for farmers that supply the business.

“It seems the LacPatrick members are having to pay for previous mistakes and banks are now influencing milk price, leaving a bad taste in the value banks attached to the family farm businesses.”

The UFU said in October, it was assured by LacPatrick that everything was in place for a smooth transition to the merger, with the only issue the wait for formal approval from UK and Irish competition authorities.

Ferguson stressed that the seasonal bonus is a structural tool. “Milk has been produced in the knowledge that this payment would be paid, and farmers have already factored it into their own cash flows and business decisions.

This payment is needed to underpin costs in what will be a costly winter for all dairy farmers, because of pressure on fodder stocks and high-feed prices.

“Now we are concerned about the widening price gap for LacPatrick suppliers – not only against other milk buyers but when set against Lakeland prices in the run up to the merger,” said the UFU president.

He urged the banks involved to “play fair” by allowing the bonus payments to be released.

“As a business about to merge, which is seeking goodwill from farmers, LacPatrick and the banks need to steady the ship now to ensure that its members see a fair return for the milk they are producing,” concluded Ferguson.