Sunday 25 September 2016

Biomass crops are back in demand

Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30

Contractors David Hatton, John O' Keeffe, John Joe Bohana pictured harvesting miscanthus with Paddy O' Toole from farm merchants, Quinns of Baltinglass. Photo Joe Byrne
Contractors David Hatton, John O' Keeffe, John Joe Bohana pictured harvesting miscanthus with Paddy O' Toole from farm merchants, Quinns of Baltinglass. Photo Joe Byrne

Demand for miscanthus is set to increase as new outlets open up for the crop, but a leading merchant has warned the crop won't realise its potential until it is approved for the new bioenergy grant scheme.

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Hundreds of acres of the biomass crop were ploughed up in recent years, but Paddy O'Toole Quinns of Baltinglass's says that he has growers looking to plant up to 100ac each this year because of the returns that the crop is generating.

"We've got a farmer that sold nearly 9t/ac at 30pc moisture content this spring into Edenderry power plant for over €70/t - that's more than he can make from any cereal crop," claimed Mr O'Toole.

However, he added that the crop needed more inputs than previously believed, and was still only a breakeven one for those further than 30 miles from a power station.

"We've realised that the crop doesn't suit all soils and that it needs fertiliser and sprays to get profitable yields," said Mr O'Toole. "When the power plant in Edenderry refused to take in baled crop, the trucking costs crippled returns on transporting bulky loads of chipped product more than 30 miles.

"It got a bad name from all of that, and now we find out that the crop doesn't qualify for planting grant the same way that willow does," he said.

A new bioenergy scheme opened in March offering planting grants up to €1,040/ha for up to 50ha. However, willow is the only plant eligible for the scheme. Very little of either willow or miscanthus has been planted in recent years, despite the grant payments.

Ireland is legally bound by EU directives to produce 12pc of its heating requirement from renewable sources by 2020.

However, with current levels closer to 2pc most industry sources believe that the country will miss these targets and incur large fines instead. "I believe the fines could be in the order of €500m a year," said Mr O'Toole.

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources declined to respond to these claims.

Poultry Quinns of Baltinglass recently started supplying baled miscanthus as poultry bedding in the Border area, where they hope to sell up to 1,500t a year.

"Poultry growers make a saving on the cost of their bedding, and report that there is less hock-burn on the birds because the bed remains drier and fluffier for longer," said Mr O'Toole.

In addition, Quinns are installing a 2.5MW biomass burner to replace an oil-fired burner in one of their main grain-drying facilities.

They estimate that it will burn approximately 1,200t of miscanthus in large square bales annually. "With the burner going through up to €250,000 of oil every year, I believe that we can halve the cost of the fuel bill, which means that we could have the investment required in this unit paid off in just two years," said Mr O'Toole.

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