Ireland is known as the land of saints and scholars but it may also lay claim to being one of the best producers of dairy products in Europe. With plans to expand operations in China, Irish dairy farms and firms say they have much to offer Chinese consumers.
Irish dairy products have a reputation of being natural and wholesome. They have also proved popular on the world stage with Ireland now producing around 5.5 billion litres of milk per year. With high levels of production and a huge diversity of milk-based products on offer, it is important for the Irish dairy industry to look towards China in the future.
"Obviously, a country like China with a huge population is very important to us, and their consumption of dairy products is growing every year so I would hope that the Chinese would buy a lot of Irish product going forward and its such a high quality product and I think that's they're looking for and that's what we can produce in volume," said Padraig Walshe, an Irish dairy farmer.
Jim Bergin, CEO of Glanbia Ingredients Ireland Ltd, said dairy consumption in China is growing at a faster pace than dairy production, adding that China has become a very important importer of dairy products globally.
"Ireland exports 85 percent of its dairy products, we have built relationships with a number of Chinese customers at this stage we know that they appreciate the high quality and the high specification of Irish product and we look forward to doing increased business with them in the future based on the contracts that we have already signed," said Bergin.
Ireland has some of the best grazing land for cattle in Europe along with a favourable climate for dairy production.
"Ireland is one of the best countries in he world in which to produce milk it is renowned for its high specification, for its high quality. It has a temperate climate and as a result the cows are out for a least eight months of the year and this is the most natural way to produce dairy products," he said.
"Ireland produces 15 percent of the infant formula product in the world and has a history of safe product and high quality product over many years and I'm sure that Chinese consumers appreciate that level of safety and high quality."
Irish dairy farmer Walshe said Irish milk is a natural product produced mainly from grass.
"85 to 90 percent of the dairy cows' diet round the year is pure grass that they harvest themselves, they graze themselves everyday, so I think that produces a better product for the marketplace," said the Irish dairy farmer.
The European Union (EU) currently limits the amount of dairy products that can be produced in countries throughout the EU. These milk quotas, however, are set to end in 2015, meaning that dairy producing countries, like Ireland, will be able to greatly expand their operations.
"The introduction of milk quotas dates back in 1983, at that time Ireland was increasing its milk production at about 20 percent per annum and all of a sudden there was a cut off and I think we have a well educated young workforce now willing to go again and I expect tat once prices are good that we will see similar type increases again," said Walshe.
Meanwhile, Bergin said that with the abolishment of milk quotas in the EU in 2015, Ireland has a very ambitious target of increasing its milk output by 50 percent.
"As a result, Glanbia has decided to invest in a new green field site in the south east of Ireland where it will build a world class facility capable of processing 19 million litres of milk per week and producing 100,000 tonnes of dairy products annually. This will be a blending facility which will blend dairy proteins with non dairy vitamins and minerals and other nutritional products and the product will be marketed worldwide, including in China," he said.