FARMERS supplying milk to the First Milk creamery at Haverfordwest have been assured that it is “business as usual" at the plant following the co-operative’s decision to close its Maelor cheese packing plant

First Milk’s announced its intention to close the north Wales creamery on the day farmers gathered at the Welsh Dairy Event in Carmarthen last Tuesday. The plant will close by the end of May because the co-operative has lost an ASDA own-label contract.

A First Milk spokesman said another party could do the work currently carried out at Maelor more economically on contract and it was quick to issue an assurance to its suppliers in Pembrokeshire.

“In terms of our creamery at Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, it is business as usual," said the spokesman.

“There is increasing demand for good quality Welsh cheddar and we remain fully committed to producing high quality Welsh cheese from our Welsh members’ milk as efficiently as possible.”

South west Wales is a stronghold for First Milk but the business is coming under increasing pressure from its competitors seeking to recruit new suppliers.

Arla has written to local dairy farmers this week following the agreement by Arla Foods amba to give a limited number of dairy farmers the opportunity to become co-owners of the co-operative. It had a strong presence at the Welsh Dairy Event in Carmarthen, one of a series of recruitment events for the company.

But First Milk has fought back, insisting that its cheese production is expanding and that it is confident of making up the lost ASDA business.

"We currently supply a number of customers with bulk cheese which is then packed at third party facilities. In the event of the closure of Maelor, we have plans to extend these arrangements," it said.

The news came on the back of the announcement of a disappointing £7.8million loss for First Milk last year. The co-operative blamed the loss on a series of 'exceptional costs' and contrasted the figures with results for the six months to September 30th this year, which show pre-tax profits up on last year to £1.1million, and turnover up £41million to £280million.