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Bioenergy backlash as farmers seek help

Frustrated farmers will be abandoning the bioenergy sector en masse unless Government support for the industry improves.

Speaking at the Teagasc Bioenergy Conference in Athlone on Wednesday, IFA alternative land use chairman JJ Kavanagh predicted a mass exodus of growers from energy crops, despite the fact the Government currently spends €300m a year on imported fossil fuels.

Low profitability in the sector has seen five plant oil facilities close over the last year, while €10,000-worth of willow plants were dumped because of delays in grant approvals, according to speakers at the conference.

"We are going nowhere unless we can get a five to 10-year plan in place for the industry," warned Mr Kavanagh.

He added that the lack of Government comment and its noticeable absence at the bioenergy conference was a further sign of the lack of support for the industry.

This was the second year the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has snubbed the national conference, even though invitations were issued to Minister Pat Rabbitte and his junior minister.

However, the Department was acknowledged by the conference organisers for its help in setting up the event.

Speaking from the floor, farmer Nicholas Sweetnam said growing miscanthus was completely unprofitable for most farmers, willow grown on good land would only generate €147/ac net profit and the country was only meeting half of the national forestry targets.

"Unless that changes, there will be no biomass grown by farmers in this country," he warned.

Contractor Pat Farrelly told the conference that delays in approving bioenergy grants to farmers last year meant his company was forced to dump €10,000 of willow plants it had in storage.

He said the time between establishment grant announcement, application and approval needed to be shortened drastically.

"We have to order willow even though we don't know what demand there is going to be, and the farmer cannot plant until he has been approved," he said.

Meanwhile, there were calls for the recently announced REFIT tariffs to be increased in line with higher tariffs available in Northern Ireland and for the Government to open up its public procurement policy to bioenergy.

"The Government spends €300m every year buying fossil fuels to heat public buildings," Joe O'Carroll from Imperative Energy.

"Over 10 years, that's €3bn that could be invested in the bioenergy industry."

Indo Farming