The Beef Plan Movement is rowing in behind calls for the establishment of a viable biogas industry nationwide in a bid to promote and secure additional income streams for the struggling sector.

The entity – which claims to now have just short of 15,000 members – has formed a committee to explore the setting up of 50-60 farmer-led co-operatives to supply slurry, grass and other feedstocks to anaerobic digestion (AD) plants that are due to come on stream as the Government is expected to ramp up support for AD in 2019.

Hugh Doyle, the vice-chairman of the Beef Plan Movement, will highlight the potential of farmers entering the green gas sector at its next public meeting which will take place at the Riverside Park Hotel in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford tonight (Monday, December 17) at 8:30pm.

The recently-formed movement is also in the final stages of being established as an independent legal entity – once this is complete the group will be looking to engage directly with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed. It will also look to participate in the next Beef Forum.

The Beef Forum, also known as the Beef Roundtable, was established in April 2014 to facilitate open discussion between the industry and farming organisations on the strategic path for the beef sector over the coming years.

Speaking to AgriLand, Doyle highlighted the prospects of diversifying holdings into beef and biogas enterprises.

“In the UK these digesters are converting 25,000t of grass per day into natural, green gas. Farmers are feeding in directly and securing an alternative income source.

We want to drive on and encourage beef farmers to seriously consider anaerobic digestion. It could be an income stream for farmers that they never had before.

“They have the grass; it’s a replenishable product and it will also help the country avoid huge EU penalties for missing carbon emission targets.

“We reckon that we could help set up 60 AD plants supplied by co-ops with up to 100 farmers. Purchasing groups would also operated within that so farmers could get a competitive return.

“Farmers will be in control of the plants; it’s a no-brainer,” said Doyle, adding that the movement intends to mount pressure on Government to introduce a significant subsidy to support farmers to invest in AD.

AD is the conversion of feedstock (any organic non-woody material) by micro organisms in the absence of oxygen into biogas and digestate.

Biogas can be produced from a range of feedstocks and utilised in all energy sectors, contributing to the EU’s decarbonisation, renewable energy and energy security objectives.

The Common Agricultural Policy encourages, through its rural development measures, the production of biogas to substitute fossil fuel and reduce methane emissions from the animal waste.

However, the economics depends on the scale of the digester and the availability of feedstocks being digested.

AD requires a high capital cost – ranging from €5 million to €8 million respectively – and payback is determined by the price received for the renewable electricity produced.

Last month, Gas Networks Ireland confirmed that a project to inject large volumes of renewable gas onto the natural gas network, had been shortlisted for €8 million of funding under The Climate Action Fund.

The “GRAZE Gas” project will be located in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork and will involve the development of a Central Grid Injection (CGI) facility, through which renewable gas will enter the grid.

The facility will enable the development of on-farm AD plants, which will supply the CGI plant. This model will be similar to that used by dairy co-ops and the gas will be transported by road, in special tankers, to the CGI facility.

It is intended that the Mitchelstown facility will be the first of 17 transmission connected facilities, delivering renewable gas into the natural gas network.

Breed society support

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Beef Plan Movement recently met with council representatives from six Irish breed societies after an invitation to “exploratory talks“.

The meeting was called following several societies pledging strong support for the movement in recent public meetings across the country.

Commenting after the meeting, Eamon Corley, national spokesman for the Beef Plan Movement, said: “I would like to thank all societies that came to the meeting and I am pleased with what was achieved.

I came here to listen to the concerns of the breed societies and their members, and they have engaged positively and constructively in the process.

The movement have agreed to meet again early in the new year to progress matters of mutual concern.

The Beef Plan Movement is currently holding public meetings across the country to bolster support for it 86-point plan aimed at rejuvenating the sector.

The plan’s key objectives centre around the following:
  • “Regaining control” of an animal from birth to slaughter and beyond;
  • Returning a “cost of production price – plus a margin”;
  • And “regaining respect” within the beef industry.

On the movement’s website it is stated that: “By creating this plan we have made the first and most important step. Together we can back this plan and implement it. If we do this we will take the power back and make beef farming profitable again. We owe this to the next generation.”