Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Bord na Móna urging farmers to grow energy crops to fuel its power stations

Energy crops, such as miscanthus (pictured) and willow are attacting renewed interest
Energy crops, such as miscanthus (pictured) and willow are attacting renewed interest

Bord na Móna is urging farmers to grow energy crops to fuel its power stations under a lucrative scheme, the Farming Independent has learned.

As peat production is reduced, the company's CEO Mike Quinn said that a new agriculture scheme, expected to be launched early this year, will prove "very attractive" to farmers, particularly in the midland region.

"We have been talking to Government about launching a willow scheme that would help the farmers establish the crop. Once the crop is established - willow for example - you can start harvesting from the end of year two or year three. Then you get a crop every second year after that".

"They will have an off-take guaranteed for 15 years from Bord na Móna and we can help out with some of the cash flow," he said.

To supply the three power stations in Edenderry, Shannonbridge and Lanesborough, the company needs 37,000ac of energy crops - located within 100km of stations.

However, it's not all about willow. Eucalyptus could be another option for farmers.

"Eucalyptus is a typically fast-growing tree, you can get a forest for harvesting from between 8-12 years, whereas the traditional tree takes 25 years to grow," he said.

"The nice thing about eucalyptus is the yield is quite good and the growing period is half of that of your traditional tree, so it's very suitable for our product."

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Bord na Móna is trialling four different varieties on its land. However, Mr Quinn pointed out that some energy crops can grow on varying degrees of land - including in some marginal and disadvantaged areas.

"To get good yield on willow, to get the 12t/ac, you need decent enough land. For the eucalyptus you can grow it on semi-marginal land.

The Department of Agriculture is currently looking into the financial package. Bord na Móna is calling on the Department to offer a substantial figure to ensure it is rolled out nationwide.

"There was a similar scheme offered before of €200/ac but it didn't get the take up needed," Mr Quinn said. "Our personal view is we need to be somewhere around the €300/ac to make it attractive for farmers to switch away from cereal production."

Acknowledging the difficult time farmers have had over the last couple of years, Mr Quinn says energy crops will offer a guaranteed income.

"There are no ups and downs. As long as you deliver the one to 12t/ac the willow will be bought by us at a fixed, guaranteed price. So it's not subject to the volatility of the global economy," he said.

The need to keep transport costs low is the reason Bord na Móna requires its crop suppliers to be located within 100km of its power plants. "You can see where the world is going in terms of climate change and we have to play our part in that. We need to transition," Mr Quinn said.

"If you look at our fleet as a whole - our carbon emissions as a power-generation fleet, solar farms, wind farms, biomass, landfill gas - we want to be the number one renewable energy player in the market and we see a large portion of our future in renewable energy production," he said.

The Limierck native said that the initiative will also ensure employment.

"The biomass side will sustain the jobs, apart from the construction phase. There are no large scale employment opportunities but it will generate profits which we can plough back into our biomass production and plants and that is where the jobs will be sustained," he said.

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