The newly elected chair of the board of Kerry Co-op has told Agriland that he will be consulting with shareholders and milk suppliers before re-entering discussions with Kerry Group on a joint venture deal.
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Denis Carroll was elected on Tuesday (December 14) to lead the board of directors at a pivotal time for milk processing in the south west.

Conor Creedon, who runs a dairy farm in Rathmore, Co. Kerry, was elected to the position of vice-chair.

Kerry Co-op chair

Denis Carroll lives in an area called Two Mile School, near Killarney, where he farms in partnership with his son, Shane.

It is a mixed dairy and sheep enterprise with 70 cows and 200 ewes.

Carroll has been involved in farming politics for 25 years, coming up through the ranks of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA)  to hold positions at both county and national level.

He is also among the founders of the Ring of Kerry Quality Lamb producer group and sits on the board of Sheep Ireland.

Carroll joined the Kerry Co-op advisory committee around 25 years ago and was elected to the board of directors three years ago.

Kerry Co-op board ‘united’

Carroll said the generous manner in which James Tangney, who also contested the election, gave him his support after the result set the tone for the first meeting that he chaired.

In an inteview with Agriland , he said that the board of Kerry Co-op is united going forward:

“There are people out there who would like to depict our board as a divided board; the board I chaired [on Tuesday, December 13] is anything but divided.

“I am a person with strong opinions and strong beliefs and I do not apologise to anybody for that. But, as chairman, you need to bring a totally different skillset to the job. I would like to think that I also have that skillset to guide and listen to the board, and to be guided by it.

“That is how you have a united board; when the board is guiding the chairman, rather than the chairman guiding the board,” Carroll said.

Kerry joint venture

The new chair said he will, firstly, be engaging with shareholders on the ground before going back to Kerry Group with a view to reopening talks on a possible joint venture deal.

In April, talks between the parties were suspended after over 18 months of discussions; it is believed the valuation Kerry Co-op placed on the dairy business was among the sticking points.

Carroll has always been in favour of the joint venture deal and has been heavily involved since Kerry Group made the offer two years ago.

He said that his predecessor, Mundy Hayes, was “fettered by a confidentiality clause” signed by Kerry Co-op, so he could not go out and talk to the people.

“That is the big opportunity that the board and I are being presented with; we can actually go out and talk to the people and that is the very first job I am going to do.”

Carroll said he will be attending all of the Kerry Co-op advisory committee meetings.

He will also go to any farmer discussion groups that are suppliers of Kerry Agribusiness, if he is invited.

“I will go to listen to what the people’s views are on the ground. I think that is where we slipped up the last time, but I can understand why it happened, I am not blaming anybody.

“The key here is that we learn lessons from our experience of the last two years.

“If we do advance those talks [with Kerry Group] and we come back with a deal, it is the people that are going to decide.

“I think it would be very remiss of me as a chairman to lead talks on wherever we want to go without wanting to know what the people want in the first place.”

Leading milk price

In terms of the longstanding row over the “leading milk price”, Carroll said as chair of the board of the largest shareholder in Kerry Group, his primary responsibility is to the shareholders of Kerry Co-op.

He said he would not to do anything to jeopardise Kerry Group and its share price.

“I am also very aware of the concerns of milk suppliers. I am a milk supplier myself so I understand the concerns that people have about their future as good as anybody. We need to address those as well.”

Carroll said the outstanding issue of the patronage shares will have to be dealt with when an appeal, lodged by Revenue on the case, is finalised.

Eight butter products sold nationally in various supermarkets are being recalled over fears of contamination.

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