Opinion

Energy crops are a distraction for Irish farmers

Energy crops, such as miscanthus and fast-growing poplars, should have no role to play within Ireland’s land use management plans for the future. And the same principle holds, where anaerobic digestion (AD) plants are concerned.

Rumours currently in circulation, to the effect that grant aid might soon be available for the growing of bespoke energy crops in Ireland, send a shiver down my spine.

In the first instance, they never worked on the previous occasions they were experimented with. But, more importantly, we don’t need them.

Ireland has access to almost unlimited resources of renewable energy. And it’s not wind.

Some day – and it’s not that far-off – a commercial development company will come up with a turbine design that is capable of harvesting the power that is incoming and outgoing around our shores every second of every day.

Once the very obvious durability challenge associated with these turbines and the associated equipment is cracked, all the other bits of the energy jigsaw puzzle will fall into place overnight.

On the other hand, the growing of energy crops simply takes land out of production that could be much better used to grow food.

For the record, the world is not confronted with an energy shortfall.

But the same can hardly be said where food is concerned. The world’s population is set to grow by 50% over the next four decades.

And it is farmers who will be in the front line when it comes to producing all the extra food that will be required to meet this need.

Irish agriculture is well-placed to meet this demand. We have an industry with an impeccable track record when it comes to producing food of the highest quality.

So it seems crazy that the Irish Government would want to take land out of food production at such a potentially important time.

Northern Ireland is currently home to 200 AD plants. I was told recently that these operations require a combined 100,000ac of land to meet their feed stock requirements.

This factor alone is having a very severe impact on dairy farmers as they seek the land base they need to graze their cows.

It would be absolute folly for such a process to be repeated on the rest of the island. Food first is the mantra that must be followed.

There are lots of ways in which renewable energy can be sourced. The sourcing of food, however, comes with very strict production parameters.