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A-ware recruits hundreds of dairy farmers in Belgium

A-ware is working hard in Belgium. Now that the takeover of FrieslandCampina’s milk powder factory in Aalter is almost complete, the group is recruiting Belgian suppliers. A-ware is looking for 300 million litres of milk, which must be supplied by own farmers.

The Belgian dairy farmer is being pulled from all sides. As of 1 July, the Walloon dairy cooperative Laiterie des Ardennes (2,150 members, 1.35 billion litres of milk) welcomed no less than 266 new member dairy farms, accounting for 200 million litres of milk. Laiterie des Ardennes wants to expand the production of milk powder in Libramont, and a new mozzarella factory is also planned in Baudour.

The current expansion three of the Belgian dairy companies finally offers opportunities for farmers who are dissatisfied with the country’s largest cooperative, Milcobel. In recent years, the price of milk has been falling sadly at the bottom.

Milcobel (2,400 members, 1.8 billion kilos of milk) has lost some 400 members since 2019. The cooperative therefore launched a drastic reorganization and austerity plan last autumn, called Phoenix. This should win back the confidence of members and ensure that Milcobel is able to pay a competitive milk price again. The plan is now beginning to bear fruit. Compared to early 2021, the juli-Milcobel price had already increased by 7 euros, to just above 34 euros per 100 kilos of milk.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of Milcobel farmers looking around. It even forced the cooperative to introduce a temporary ‘termination stop’ in april this year: members were not allowed to leave between april and July. This would lead to an excessive volume loss and the group feared operational difficulties.

Fourteen farmers filed a lawsuit against this, and were found in favour by the Ghent court. They were allowed to leave. A further 44 members withdrew after 1 July. The depopulation at Milcobel results, among other things, in less milk entering the milk powder factory in Kallo. Some of the staff were unemployed at home in July. The situation is causing unrest among the staff, the unions report.

Meanwhile, A-Ware Belgium is waiting with open arms for the dissatisfied Milcobel farmers. A-ware is looking for 300 million litres of milk, says director dairy Affairs Luc van Hoe. A-ware is currently completing the acquisition of FrieslandCampina’s milk powder towers in Aalter. Fabreik produces approximately 45,000 tonnes of milk powder on an annual basis, equivalent to 450 million kilos of milk.

Royal A-ware has been collecting milk in Flanders since 1 July. Until the takeover is final, that milk will still be processed by FrieslandCampina. For Royal A-waren, the acquisition is a long-term investment, says a spokeswoman.

“This is the first step. Further steps such as a possible enlargement are still Development.”

Where a few years ago FrieslandCampina still called a large number of Flemish suppliers (see box at the bottom of the text), A-ware prefers to work with Flemish dairy farmers. As in the Netherlands, the company wants to retain its own farmers in Belgium. At a time when we need 300 million kilos of milk, we need about 400 farmers. An average dairy farm in Flanders produces 742,000 kilos of milk, compared to 485,000 kilos in Wallonia.

On the website of A-ware in the Netherlands and Belgium the application forms are already prominently ready. A milk price of 35 euros per 100 kilos is offered for delivery in August; more than one euro above Milcobel’s July price. Yet A-ware refutes that it buys Belgian farmers away from its competitors. ‘Royal A-ware follows the market price, and as a family company wants to enter into long-term cooperation contracts’, it says.
‘New dynamics’

Chairman Hendrik Vandamme of the Algemeen Boeren Syndicate (ABS) thinks it is a good thing that A-ware has a new player on the Belgian dairy market.

“That brings a new dynamic. It keeps the heads of the other dairy companies sharp”, it sounds satisfied. For a long time there was no alternative for Milcobel farmers.

Whether it is the arrival of Royal A-ware is difficult to prove, but it is clear that the average milk price paid in Belgium this year is significantly higher than other years. According to the official quotations of the Belgian Dairy Conference – the Flemish counterpart of the NZO – the average farmer’s milk price since april this year is around 36 cents; a level that most Flemish farmers have not seen in the past summer periods.

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