Are the flames beginning to burn out for Ireland’s miscanthus growers?

A series of upgrades to the Bord na Mona-owned power plant in Edenderry, Co. Offaly has left miscanthus growers around the country scratching their heads.

What once seemed like a valuable crop from a heat production point of view is now almost valueless. This comes as the new facility is no longer able to burn miscanthus.

AgriLand visited one grower, Bill Madigan, earlier this week to find out how his business is coping with the change and the loss of market.

Madigan farms in Windgap, Co. Kilkenny and grows 160ac of miscanthus. This acreage produces a total yield of approximately 1,920t (50% moisture) on an annual basis. In litre terms, this means that Madigan’s farm was capable of producing the equivalent of 426,560L of oil each year.

The Kilkenny-based farmer founded Kilogen – a green energy service company in 2007 – that consisted of close on 50 growers at its peak.

However, the decision to cease burning miscanthus means that the number of growers involved with the company has dropped to just seven or eight.

Madigan gave a brief introduction to his business saying: “We started growing miscanthus in 2007 and our farm was capable of producing enough energy to power a small town.

“We were delivering the crop to Edenderry which is 71 miles away at a cost of €4/mile. The crop is harvested between February 1 and April 20 and some days we were delivering two 30t loads per day.”

He added that the harvesting procedure requires about 100L of diesel per acre and haulage to Edenderry takes another 100L of diesel for every acre harvested.

Miscanthus, he said, produces an average energy yield of 8GJ/t and was worth €6.60 for every gigajoule delivered to the power station in Co. Offaly.

Madigan added that he has held meetings with Bord na Mona to discuss the possibility of burning miscanthus once more in the Edenderry facility.

However, he said, as it only accounted for 15,000t of the one million tonnes burned in the power plant each year they were unwilling to adapt the facility.

In addition, he said, Bord na Mona has plans to develop a range of biomass briquettes. However, production isn’t expected to start until 2020. This may be too late for many miscanthus growers.

Madigan added that the future looks uncertain for Irish miscanthus producers, as there are no concrete markets in the pipeline for the next three years.

I doubt there will be any miscanthus left in Ireland in two years time.

Until then, he will continue to use the miscanthus grown on his own farm to heat his family’s home and to bed beef cattle on their Kilkenny Rose Veal enterprise.