Opinion

There is absolutely no need for a new sugar plant in Carlow

Why is there a need for a new sugar-processing plant in Co. Carlow when there are, literally, hundreds of customers for all the beet that can be conceivably produced in Ireland a hundred or so miles north of the main growing areas?

There are currently 200 or more anaerobic digestion (AD) plants now operating in Northern Ireland.

And this figure may well rise during the period ahead. It is my understanding that fodder/sugar beet is the feedstock best suited for these plants. As a consequence, AD operators in the North are willing to pay a handsome price for whatever quantities of these products that they can get their hands on.

Crucially, beet delivers a very rich source of energy, which the bugs at the heart of these AD operations can ‘feast on’ without fear of creating an imbalance in the bacterial populations that make the entire digestion process viable.

What’s more, given the growing market for biogas, many AD operators are now seeking to boost the overall output from their plants – above and beyond the electricity ratings that were established at the outset. And, again, beet is regarded as the energy-rich feedstock that can make all of this happen.

Given these circumstances, it seems obvious to me that a concerted effort could be made by potential beet growers south of Dublin to forge strong business relationships with AD operators north of the border.

But AD is only one aspect to the market for beet that is currently evolving in Northern Ireland.

Dairy is now forging ahead as the main driver of the agri economy in that part of the world. But, given the greater reliance on TMR (Total Mixed Ration) diets in the North, farmers there have become increasingly aware of the benefits to be accrued from the regular inclusion of beet in the diets they offer their cows.

In essence, beet drives dry matter intakes. This, in turn, helps to boost milk output. Up to 10kg of beet per day can be included in dairy cow diets without causing digestive upsets or creating milk taint problems.

As one farmer said to me recently:

If cattle had pocket money they would buy sugar beet with it.

It should also be pointed out that beet yields obtained in Northern Ireland are considerably less than those achieved on farms located in the southern half of the country.

So, again, I ask the question: Why go to the expense of building a new sugar-processing plant in Carlow when there is a ready market for all the beet Irish growers could ever produce on their own doorsteps?