Viewpoint: How big data can end the scourge of fuel landering
Published 06/05/2015 | 02:30
We have been hearing about the 'power' of big data for a long time now from IT experts.
It all seems like remote theory, until we can see how its application can impact on our own lives.
A conference in Kilkenny last week on the use of IT in the agri-sector highlighted some of the possibilities that, when spelled out, seem like no-brainers.
The most obvious is the suggestion that we should ditch our out-of-date red diesel system in favour of new measures that combine all the information already being generated along the fuel supply chain.
The Irish system of putting a marker-dye into diesel to qualify it for tax relief when used off-road has become embarrassing in recent times.
Fuel laundering gangs in the Border region have been diverting an astonishing €150m a year from the National Exchequer.
More often than not, these illegal outfits are located in farm sheds, churning out millions in profits for the gangs.
The resultant diesel has destroyed many an engine, and the sludge from the process has polluted many a waterway.
But perhaps the most worrying thing from a farmer's perspective is the potential damage that these toxic operations pose to our food chain, existing as they often do, cheek-by-jowl with drystock feeding.
However, it doesn't have to be this way. The dual-colour diesel system could be replaced overnight with a simple tax credit that has already been designed by Waterford IT.
Researcher Sinead Quelly said that all the information required to track diesel already exists. Her proposal is that farmers could buy their fuel at standard diesel prices and that the Department would then provide a tax credit on the purchase.
"We know how much diesel is sold in Ireland from the companies themselves and we know to whom it is sold from the distributor invoices," she said.
"Custom and Excise and Revenue know how much is expended on the diesel fiscal mark scheme and where this money is going. The Departments of Agriculture and the Environment know farm usage of diesel, whether in tractors or other machinery. They even know the amount of diesel required by farmers on a per hectare basis," she added.
This proposal, of course, would require a 'top-to-bottom trust model' between the diesel manufacturers, diesel distributors, farmers, contractors and Excise and Revenue for a tax .
Ms Quelly accepted that farmers had fears that a diesel tax credit system looked like another layer bureaucracy and that they might have reservations about more intrusion into their businesses by officials, but she was adamant that these concerns could be sensibly addressed.
The information is there - it's only a question of joining it up. Everybody wins, except the gangsters, just like it should be.