DAIRY farmers will see their marketing co-op sink €20m into a new cheese manufacturing facility in the Saudi capital Riyadh over the coming months.
The new co-op will import milk powder from Ireland, boosting our exports to the Middle Eastern country.
The Irish Dairy Board (IDB), which markets more than €2bn of products from the country's dairy co-ops, announced the joint venture with Saudi firm Al Wazeen yesterday.
The ceremony was attended by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who is leading an Irish food trade mission to the Middle East this week.
The state-of-the-art plant, covering more than two acres on the outskirts of Riyadh, will harness patented technology developed by the Irish agricultural advisory body Teagasc over the past three years.
Dried milk powder will be exported from Ireland to the plant, where it will be used to produce a range of fresh cream cheeses popular across the Middle East.
It is just one of 300 different cheeses that have been under development at Teagasc's research centre in Moorepark in Co Cork over the past number of years as the Irish dairy industry gears up to increase milk production by 50pc by 2020.
Yesterday's announcement is the first foray by the IDB into manufacturing in the Middle East region, which CEO Kevin Lane believes offers huge potential over the coming years.
"This investment is strategically very important as it represents a major route to market for Irish dairy in the post-quota environment," he said.
Saudi Arabia has a rapidly growing population and an economic growth rate of more than 6pc per year. However, less than 2pc of its land mass is suitable for food production and looming water shortages are threatening domestic food supplies.
Cheese demand alone is expected to increase by more than 60pc over the next decade.
The IDB is also opening new offices in the South African city of Port Elizabeth this month.
Meanwhile, in a major boost for the Irish beef industry, Mr Coveney said that he expects the Saudi market to re-open to Irish beef following a ban that has remained in place since the BSE crisis. Irish beef accounted for up to 40pc of all the beef sold in Saudi before the ban.