Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 27 July 2017

Farmers need more incentives to grow biomass crops

Patrick Nolan has invested €200,000 in a biomass burner for his tillage farm in Co Carlow. He says burning two bales of miscanthus produces enough to dry around 30t of wheat, a job that would require 200 litres of diesel.
Patrick Nolan has invested €200,000 in a biomass burner for his tillage farm in Co Carlow. He says burning two bales of miscanthus produces enough to dry around 30t of wheat, a job that would require 200 litres of diesel.
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Policy changes are needed to make biomass crops more attractive to landowners to help combat the threat of climate change, according to a leading crop expert.

"If Ireland is to meet its commitments under climate change issues we need to incentivise," said Prof Jimmy Burke from UCD, adding that climate change was the "biggest threat" to Irish agriculture.

For many growers miscanthus has been blacklisted, after hundreds of acres of the biomass crop were ploughed up in recent years.

However, standing on the edge of a 45ac plantation on the Nolan family farm, just outside of Tullow, Co Carlow, Prof Burke from UCD, said new policy measures were needed.

Under the Renewable Energy Directive, Ireland has been set a target of ensuring that 16pc of energy consumption comes from renewable sources by 2020.

"We should have a national obsession about mitigation. There are a whole range of measures we can adopt - otherwise we will not be able to expand the dairy herd, which is the sector that is already increasing," said Professor Burke.

"But tillage can be a big part of the solution if we are creative and use the knowledge we have to tackle the problem," said the crop science expert.

"I think biomass has been overlooked. Willow is probably more attractive to a lot of growers but miscanthus has its place and it has a high yield potential on the right site," he said.


David Tyrell from merchants, Quinns of Baltinglass, said people were initially told miscanthus was ideal as it was a "crop that you could grow on marginal land and it didn't need any nutrients.

"We've learned and many have learned the hard lessons from that as well. We know that it is not a crop that you can leave alone -it needs management."

The crop requires good land, regular spraying of weedkillers and nutrients such as pig slurry, he said.

The crop on Patrick Nolan's farm, which was planted by his late father Tom, yielded 5.4t/ac during the first harvest in 2012. However, this year it delivered 8.78t/ac at 31.8pc moisture.

"A crop like this would substitute, in terms of gas oil, the equivalent of 7.5t of CO2 emissions an acre," said Mr Tyrell. The network of root matter would also remove 16t/ha of carbon from the atmosphere. After all costs, including harvest and fertiliser, it delivered a gross margin of €305/ac.

In terms of energy, it delivered 101.1 gigajoule/ac which is the equivalent of 2,760 litres of gas oil per acre.

Quinns have highlighted that profits would have been higher if it hadn't been for the high transport costs - €22.50/t or €198/ac - to the Bord na Mona (BNM) plant in Edenderry. These costs are due to the bulky nature of the crop.

Paddy O'Toole from Quinns said there are opportunities to install miscanthus big bale burners on farms and other locations to avoid hefty transport charges.

The IFA's Fintan Conway said: "It makes sense to develop local markets through supporting the installation of biomass driers for arable crops - we produce up to 2.5 million tonnes of grain per annum and it takes between 4.5l to 9l of diesel to dry a tonne of green grain.

Burner

A Grasso burner from Poland, sourced by agents CPB Biomass, was installed at a cost of €200,000 on the Nolan farm, and it will provide the heat for drying 40,000t of grain each year for Quinns.

It takes the heat from two bales of miscanthus to dry around 30t of wheat, a job that would require 200 litres of diesel. Patrick Nolan stressed the level of energy produced by miscanthus depended on the quality of the bales going into the burner.

"It has met all our expectations and maybe exceeded some of them in terms of temperatures," he said. Compared to wheaten or barley straw, miscanthus delivered higher temperatures of up to 130C for grain drying and is currently drying 30t/hr.

Mr Tyrell stressed the need for an incentive for miscanthus when the Renewable Heat Incentive comes on stream. He also highlighted an emerging niche market with supplies going to the Cavan and Monaghan area for poultry farmers looking finely chipped bedding to avoid 'hock burn' on chicken legs for the Chinese market.

Tom Barry TD said crops such as miscanthus could also be used also for mitigating against carbon emissions from agriculture.

"If you can reduce the CO2 emissions from approximately 20m litres of diesel or gas it allows us to maintain our production, especially as our cow herd rises," he said.

Mr Barry said he had written to the minister asking for a direct grant and tax relief to try and incentivise it. "Between TAMS, RHI and a number of departments this is a very positive situation," he said. "

Indo Farming