THE potential to meet the challenges facing the agricultural sector by producing energy crops is enormous, according to Fine Gael senator Paul Bradford.
He said the domestic agriculture industry faces big challenges ahead. Farm incomes have reduced significantly. Dairy prices have almost fallen through the floor and tillage prices have been disastrous. At the same time there is a need to produce energy crops. Marrying these two problems could result in solving Ireland’s agricultural needs.
“We must ask ourselves how we can use the significant European Union funding available to Ireland to keep farmers farming and the land productive,” he said.
“While we must observe our food obligations from a food security perspective, a significant proportion of our land could be used for energy crop production.”
Mr Bradford said the technology, land, farmers and the machinery and history of biofuel production are all in place but a further push is needed.
A biodiesel plant was proposed for north Cork some years ago and one of the major objections was the fear that the vast majority of product required to refine the biodiesel would be imported and not produced locally.
“Five years ago the Government made a decision in conjunction with the European Commission to shut down the sugar industry in Ireland.
“There was a great deal of hope, expectation and optimism that sugar beet could be used effectively as an alternative crop to produce bioethanol.
“The people of Mallow and Carlow had hoped the disused sugar factories could be used for the production of energy.
“Sadly, that did not come to pass but a number of people have ideas and proposals to further our energy crop production in the future.”
Mr Bradford said Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith must ensure a grant structure is put in place. Domestic production must be kept at the top of the agenda.
“If the minister strikes the correct balance to meet our obligation while maximising biofuel production on the land, the farmer, the consumer and the environment will benefit,” he said.
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