Representatives from Glanbia Co-op, international dairy producer Royal A-ware and the Irish Government today took part in the turning of the sod at the site of a new continental cheese facility being built at Belview in Co Kilkenny.
The development comes after a two-year planning saga which caused much debate over the environmental impact of dairy farming and the planning process itself.
The new facility will produce continental-type cheese and is expected to be operational in early 2024.
The facility, which is being built by Kilkenny Cheese Ltd, a joint venture between family-owned Dutch dairy producer Royal A-Ware and Glanbia Co-op, will have a footprint of 18,000 square metres.
It will produce over 50,000 tonnes of continental cheese per year, including Edam, Gouda and Emmental cheese varieties which will be brought to market by Royal A-ware through their established channels.
The production facility will utilise approximately 450 million litres of milk from Glanbia milk suppliers each year.
Progress on the development of the new plant comes as milk prices have soared to all-time highs this year on the back of buoyant demand and lower production across the world.
Notably, however, milk production by Glanbia suppliers has also reduced in recent months on the back of rocketing input prices.
Glanbia Co-op currently sends some milk for processing by third parties during the peak milk supply months; the new facility will allow this milk to be brought in-house for processing, the company said.
First announced in January 2019, a two-year planning battle over the plant concluded in February when the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by An Taisce aimed at overturning planning permission for the project.
The project had come under scrutiny five times: by Kilkenny Co Council, An Bord Pleanála, the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court.
Opposing the project, An Taisce argued that the upstream consequences of the operation of the proposed factory – namely, the potential environmental effects from milk produced across some 4,500 farms – should have been assessed by the planning authorities under various EU regulations.
Today's sod-turning was performed by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue.
Welcoming the new development project in the south-east, the Tánaiste said it was an honour to turn the sod on new facility and described it as a huge boost for the south-east.
"The UK’s decision to leave the European Union was a seismic event for Ireland’s agrifood sector and the over 163,000 people it employs here.
“Seven years on from the decision and two years on from when it took effect, the picture is more hopeful than we could ever have imagined. Employment has remained relatively steady and the dairy sector is doing relatively well. The industry has responded successfully to what was potentially disastrous.
"Our business owners and farmers have risen to every challenge in the past number of years, and there have been many, and have worked incredibly hard to protect jobs and even grow business. I believe this facility is a perfect example of that resilience, that flexibility and determination. Thank you to Glanbia Co-op and Royal A-ware for bringing this vision to life and I wish all involved the very best of luck with it.”
Minister McConalogue also welcomed progress on the new plant describing it as a 'great day' for the 4,500 Glanbia farm family suppliers as well as for the wider Irish agriculture sector and Irish farmers as a whole.
"Both I and the Government have been supportive of the project throughout, because of its profound importance to farming in the south-east. It is heartening to know too that Glanbia Co-op is fully committed to a sustainable future for the dairy sector in partnership with Government, through the Food Vision 2030 Strategy. I look forward to continued engagement through these initiatives into the future.”