With policymakers suggesting that farmers have a greater role to play in meeting EU renewable energy and domestic production goals, farmers could be paid to grow grass for anaerobic digesters, Teagasc director Professor Frank O’Mara has said.

The agency’s head told the Irish Farmers Journal that anaerobic digestion of grass and slurry could provide opportunities for Irish farmers, but stressed the need for consideration to be given to the diversion of grass away from livestock production.

Under-utilised grasslands are a potential source of feedstocks for gas production, which would not compete with livestock for fodder, stated O’Mara.

“It certainly is being looked at by policy makers and I suppose, grass production for biogas would have to compete with grass production for beef or for milk or for whatever alternatives that that grass or that land would be used for,” commented O’Mara.

“There’s no point cutting off your nose to spite your face, solving one problem but creating another.

Food-producing industry

“Ultimately, we are a food-producing industry and yes, if we can find room and if we can find grass, and indeed we have a lot of grassland that could produce more.

“If there’s an opportunity to produce another farmer from that [grassland] and that product is in demand, well then wouldn’t I suppose farmers consider that option?”

The director’s comments were made when discussing the anaerobic digestion (AD) facility in the Grange research centre at the launch of the 5 July Teagasc beef open day.

Supply chain needs improvement

However, there remains work to be done on developing energy infrastructure before AD will be seen on a larger scale, O’Mara added.

The director explained that the energy source was “quite widespread in some European countries”, but that access to digesters would need improvement for more farmers to commit to producing feedstocks to produce AD gas.

“What we are doing here in Grange is we have a small digester where we can do some basic research around what are the production parameters for a farmer or a group of farmers that are going to consider getting into anaerobic digestion,” he continued.

“But I think a good bit remains to be done on the supply chain and ensuring an outlet for grass that is produced for biogas before that will go forward,” said O’Mara.

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