brothers believe in benefits of willow
Farrellys say crop proves money does grow on trees
Despite the bottlenecks within the bio-energy sector, one Meath-based company is ploughing on regardless.
"We have to get more biomass crops in the ground if we're to meet the EU's renewable energy targets," said Pat Farrelly of Farrelly Brothers agricultural contracting firm.
Despite going through the ringer over the last three years, Mr Farrelly is determined to expand his fledgling bio-energy business. "We're still not out of the woods yet to be honest," he admitted. "We've been stung for approximately €1.5m of bad debts over the past number of years which has taken a big toll on the business here and forced us to totally restructure."
Part of this restructuring involved sending 36 machines of the brothers' extensive fleet to civil engineering projects in far flung places such as Poland and the Shetland Isles.
Plans to build a combined heat and power plant (CHP) at their yard near Carnaross in north Meath have also taken a hit after being refused planning permission. "But we've put it back in for planning permission in the last few weeks. We still believe we can make it happen."
Mr Farrelly is now concentrating all his energies into developing a biomass built around willow.
"We've got amazing varieties of willow from Sweden now that can grow up to 25ft in just two years. It is amazingly efficient using only one part energy for every 30 parts energy produced," said Mr Farrelly.
He reckons that farmers will have their initial investment in the crop paid off after just five years. Farrellys say they will buy willow at €30-35/t and that an average crop yields 20t every two years. In addition, Mr Farrelly said that farmers can claim entitlements on land planted with the crop and charge gate fees of up to €8/t for up to 10t of sludge per acre per year.