Updated at 2.50pm
TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has claimed 2015 will be “the year of rural recovery” at the opening of the most-expensive dairy plant in the state’s history.
It has been predicted Ireland will become the world’s fastest-growing milk producer over the next five years after the abolition of EU production quotas.
And one of the country’s biggest firms, dairy giant Glanbia, plans to capitalise on the growth with its new, €180 million dairy-production facility at Belview in Co Kilkenny.
Kenny said the plant would support 1,600 jobs with “knock-on benefits for local businesses and communities”.
But only 76 of those will be employees at the plant, with the remainder “indirect” positions it has been claimed the facility will support.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, who was also at Belview for the opening, said there had been a dramatic increase in milk production and demand over the past four years while Europe “had to stand on the side lines” under the quota system.
After more than 30 years of quota restrictions, our dairying potential is ready to be realised,” he said.
Recent figures from the CSO showed people in rural areas are at significantly greater risk of poverty in Ireland than urban dwellers.
Rural areas were also hit much harder with unemployment during the recession than the city centres.
Meanwhile, Glanbia Ingredients Ireland chief executive Jim Bergin told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the company’s suppliers planned to increase output 63% after quotas ended.
“We have to remember that from 1975 to 1984, Ireland was one of the fastest-growing milk production countries in the world,” he said.
We’ve had 30 years of stagnation so now with the investment in this facility we are unlocking the great potential of our milk suppliers.”
No squeezing suppliers
The company claims the plant will be worth €400 million a year to the Irish economy, although Bergin denied that the boost in supply would leave producers squeezed on prices.
The Irish Farmers’ Association has been calling for policies that increase profitability for farmers and branding to create a “price premium” for local produce.
Bergin said Ireland should take lessons in sustainable growth in its dairy industry from countries like New Zealand which had already gone through a similar process.
Ireland is one of the best dairy producing countries in the world and our milk suppliers are some of the best in the world, and we can compete on global markets,” he said.
Glanbia has said its main expansion plans are in sports supplements and global ingredients,
Revenues from its Irish business have been falling, although the company has flagged taking the Avonmore brand international.
It recently finished building another plant in Co Monaghan making long-life milk for Asian, European and Middle Eastern customers.
Yesterday Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said 10,000 jobs were expected to be created in rural Ireland over the next five years on the back of dairy demand.
“Over that time, Ireland will be the world’s fastest growing dairy producer,” he said.
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