Fall in miscanthus grants sparks bioenergy alarm
An 18pc increase in the number of farmers applying for willow establishment grants has been recorded by the Department of Agriculture.
However, the number of miscanthus grant applications fell significantly, highlighting the lack of available finance for planting bioenergy crops.
Over 80 farmers applied for pre-planting approvals for miscanthus and willow in 2010.
It is understood that some 38 farmers applied for grants to plant 360ha of willow, while a further 44 farmers applied for grant aid to plant miscanthus.
There are currently 3,000ha sown to energy crops in the country but bioenergy experts believe the lack of farm finance and limited bank lending are holding back the sector.
Establishment costs for willow and miscanthus are estimated at €2,600/ac, of which €1,300 is grant aided under the current Department scheme.
The 2010 bioenergy scheme was limited to funding 1,000ha of energy crops but if current targets for heat and electricity production are to be achieved, a massive 150,000ha of energy crops will be needed, in addition to the available forestry area.
Ireland has 9pc of its land area planted to forestry, compared with Sweden where forestry accounts for 40-60pc of land use.