Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 23 November 2017

Promised market for miscanthus crop fails to emerge

More than 1,700ac of miscanthus have been ploughed in over the past three years as a lack of market demand for the crop has left farmers nursing significant losses.
More than 1,700ac of miscanthus have been ploughed in over the past three years as a lack of market demand for the crop has left farmers nursing significant losses.
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

One quarter of all miscanthus crops in the country have been ploughed in as the promised local markets for the crop have so far failed to materialise.

And Teagasc bioenergy specialist Dr Barry Caslin has warned that the Government needed to take 'fire-fighting action' to prevent even more miscanthus being taken out of production in the coming years.

More than 1,700ac of miscanthus have been ploughed in over the past three years and many more crops face the same fate unless immediate action was taken, Dr Caslin maintained.

"There has been no effort made by the Government to develop local heat markets or install boilers to demonstrate how this crop can be used to displace oil," he said.

"At the moment, the only real market for miscanthus is the Edenderry power plant, but unless your crop is within 50-60 miles of the power plant, it doesn't make economic sense," he explained.

Within a 50-mile radius of Edenderry, the crop is more profitable than either beef production or growing spring barley, but outside this area, the figures fail to stack up.

The cost of transporting 12t load of miscanthus worth €1,070 from Co Cork to Edenderry is around €700. When the harvesting costs are added in, the farmer either barely breaks even or makes a loss on the load.

Dr Caslin said the Government needed to focus on developing local heat markets and supply chains to prove the crop's merit before growers become disillusioned.

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Over €7m has been invested in miscanthus in Ireland in recent years, with €3.5m coming from the Department of Agriculture through establishment grants, matched by €3.5m of farmer's money. But the investment will be wasted if more effort is not made to provide outlets for the crop.

"Farmers are not going to engage unless there is a market for their crop. Why would they leave it in if no-one near them wants to buy it? They have been left in limbo," remarked Dr Caslin.

"We need projects like the 300kw boiler that was installed in Teagasc Johnstown Castle," he said. Consuming over 50ac of miscanthus annually, the boiler is replacing 90,000l of oil, which would cost €81,000.

Miscanthus acreage in Ireland peaked in 2010 at 6,795ac but provisional CSO figures show this has fallen by 25pc to 5,082ac in 2013.

The fodder crisis of early 2013 has also played a role in the move away from the energy crop, with some farmers deciding to move back into tillage and fodder crops that can be sold much more readily than miscanthus.

Dr Caslin warned that unless Government action is taken to address the problem, Ireland would not have enough biomass crops to meet the renewable energy targets set out for 2020.

"In two or three years time, when Ireland needs miscanthus to meet its target, there might not be enough of the crop and we will end up importing biomass from other countries at a very high cost," he pointed out.

"Remember, all the other European countries will be trying to meet their targets too."

Irish Independent