Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 April 2018

€300m penalty if we don't meet bioenergy targets

There are significant penalties if Ireland misses its bioenergy targets.
There are significant penalties if Ireland misses its bioenergy targets.
IMPORTANT: Miscanthus crops are vital to our bionenergy heat targets

Paddy O'Toole

Bioenergy crops like miscanthus or indeed willow must play a significant role if Ireland is to avoid massive EU penalties of circa. half a billion euros per year from 2020 onwards.

The optimists predict that the shortfall in reaching our Bioenergy heats may only be 2pc, which would still result in a penalty of circa. €300m per year. One acre of a well-established crop of miscanthus can easily replace 2,000 litres of imported fossil fuels.

The Department of Agriculture introduced an establishment grant to cover 50pc of the establishment's costs some seven years ago. This was seen at the time as a positive commitment by the Government to support Bioenergy crops in Ireland.

Now seven years later we have a situation where more and more of these Government-supported bioenergy crops are being ploughed in, resulting in a huge loss of money to the unfortunate pioneering growers.

So what went so terribly wrong? The first place to start proportioning culpability is with the promoters who clearly advised that miscanthus would grow merrily on for 20-25 years in almost any type of soil and low soil fertility levels were of little consequence when the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was all it required!

How wrong and misguided we were:

  • miscanthus requires 100 units of Potash per acre per year;
  • miscanthus will only achieve maximum yield potential when planted in the best fertile cereal soils;
  • invariably miscanthus was planted in the poorest of cereal soils or even worse still, in old lay ground where the wireworms did immense damage in years two and three;
  • weed control was often inadequate or non-existent contributing, also to poor crop establishment.

I include myself as one of the first pioneering growers and as an advisor with Quinns of Baltinglass, also include myself as one of the earliest promoters of miscanthus.

We have learned during the last seven years some very valuable but expensive lessons.

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Practically all the previous understanding with respect to the agronomy of the crop has been completely changed and revised.

It is not possible to achieve yields of 5-8t/ac, unless the crop is established in good fertile soils coupled with:

a) High quality and vigorous Rhizomes;

b) Proper annual weed control;

c) Sufficient annual application of either organic or chemical fertilisers.

While understandably some growers have thrown in the towel and have ploughed up their crops, other more inspirational farmers like the late Tom Nolan and his son Patrick, Thornhill, Tullow have made every effort during the last three years to make a success of their 50ac of miscanthus.

They used their own modified planter, used one and a half times the normal seeding rate and applied 2,000 gallons of pig slurry per acre each year.

This spring, their miscanthus yield of 7.5t/ac at 34pc moisture content grossed €73.60/t, or €552/ac delivered into the Edenderry Power Station.

Norman Bradley, a well-known cereal grower from Fenagh, Co Carlow applied 100 units of Muriate of Potash to his crops of miscanthus last year and almost doubled his yield to 5t/ac resulting in miscanthus being Norman's best-paying crop of 2013.

Norman has almost completed, with the support of the Carlow Leader Programme, a 350 horse-power mill specifically designed to chip miscanthus, which will ultimately be used to replace fossil fuels.

Where do we go from here?

With a cohesive and focused Government strategy quite enormous social and economic benefits would result with:

  • 3,600 new jobs being created;
  • €1.5bn by way of direct investment into the Irish economy;
  • €430m per year would be spent on the operation of new energy facilities;
  • Ireland would reduce its energy import bill by 7.5pc per year or €250m per year.

When will the Government introduce its long-anticipated Bioenergy Strategy Report - nevermind its implementation.

The immediate introduction of a scheme to promote the infrastructural development with respect to the establishment in strategic locations of Bioenergy Centres to both process and carry sufficient stocks to sustain industrial-type Biomass Burners is absolutely essential.

The immediate introduction of a Renewable Energy Heat Incentive Scheme is necessary to encourage the installation of a range of Bioenergy burners between 250 kilowatts and 1 megawatt.

A number of viable 
projects have already been submitted to the relevant Government Departments for their consideration and approval.

Here, unfortunately 'Ping Pong' is the name of the game with the proposed pilot projects being tossed from one department to the next - a totally futile exercise.

It is soul destroying to see such inertia but I suppose what is everyone's responsibility is ultimately no one's responsibility, and there are too many Government departments influencing policy in this area. This has resulted in the whole stagnation and possible imminent demise of this sector.

A small amount of Government expenditure, spent wisely on the future development of the bioenergy industry would be an enormous benefit to not only reviving this very important fledgling industry, but also to preventing potentially massive financial penalties.

Action must be taken now.

Indo Farming