Long-term options for Northern Ireland’s RHI announced
A public consultation on long-term solutions for the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) in Northern Ireland has opened.

A wide range of options for the long-term future of the RHI scheme have been put forward by the Department for the Economy (DfE) in a public consultation.

Legislation to cut RHI tariffs was approved by the NI Assembly in January 2017 after overspend from the scheme emerged. Reduced tariffs were initially introduced for one year until a longer-term solution was found, but this was extended for another 12 months in March 2018.

On the table are eight options which range from stopping RHI payments altogether, to reverting to the initial untiered and uncapped tariffs paid when the scheme was introduced in 2012.

Analysis carried out by consultancy firm Riccardo AEA for DfE indicates that the projected costs of these two options to the end of the scheme’s 20-year lifetime are zero and £1,040m, respectively.

Buy-out

Both compulsory and voluntary buy-outs of RHI contracts are mentioned, which would end the scheme early for all or some of the participants. Buy-outs would not have a significant cost for DfE as Riccardo analysis suggests that average installation in the scheme had more than covered its initial capital costs through tariff payments by February 2018 anyway.

The public consultation opened to responses on Thursday and runs for 12 weeks. Department officials are aiming to have the preferred long-term solution approved by the Department of Finance and European Commission in the first quarter of 2019.

After that, it is up to an Economy Minister to introduce the measures through legislation. In the absence of an executive at Stormont, it would be up to the NI Secretary of State in Westminster. The aim is to have long-term tariff rates in place by the time the extended temporary regulations expire at the end of March 2019.

Read more in next week’s Irish Farmers Journal and at www.farmersjournal.ie

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Watch: MEPs fail to obtain details of EU-backed forestry investments
Irish MEPs asked the European Investment Bank (EIB) for information on forestry land acquired by investors receiving support from the EU institution in Ireland, but this was not available.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy told a hearing of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee that he had not been able to obtain information on the EIB-financed investors active in the Irish forestry sector, their portfolio and the regions they are targeting.

"Local farmers are being outbidded by foreign companies, where they're planting blanket forests that defy local biodiversity concerns, and then in turn they're taking advantage of exchequer-funded premium payouts," MEP Carthy said.

His question related to a €112m investment plan, first revealed by this newspaper in September 2016 and confirmed last year, to acquire 18,000ha of forestry and consolidate it under a single management structure.

The project, registered in Ireland as the Forais Partnership, brings together private investors led by the Finnish investment firm Dasos, €55m in capital from the Government's Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) and a €28.5m co-investment by the EIB. It targets investment in "improving forest management, reforestation (ie after harvesting operations) and new plantations," according to the EIB.

Irish MEP Luke Ming Flanagan echoed MEP Carthy's question and concerns that the forestry investments may not be "sustainable" and in accordance with environmental legislation.

EIB vice-president Andrew McDowell said that "if ever any citizen of Ireland or indeed any other member state believes any promoter that we have financed is breaking national or EU environmental laws, we have a mechanism to deal with those and we will investigate them thoroughly".

"But we don't know who it is you're funding. Who is drawing it down and where is it invested?" MEP Carthy asked.

"When we invest in a fund, our transparency obligation is obviously to reveal exactly how much we've invested in that fund," McDowell replied. "Who they invest in is the responsibility of the fund."

Co-ops' investment

European Parliament vice-president Mairead McGuinness too noted the reference on the EIB's website to Ireland's "love affair with Sikta Spruce" and said that maybe there is too much of this tree being planted as "forestry is a contentious issue".

McDowell replied that the latest investment by the EIB in Irish forestry was with SLM Silva, a fund committed to replacing such monoculture plantations leading to clearfell after 30 years with continuous cover forestry using multiple species.

Asked by MEP McGuinness if the EIB would fund groups of farmers who approached it collectively with their own projects, McDowell said: "We have already financed one or two co-operatives in Ireland and we have a number of further ones in the pipeline."

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Highland show: dairy results
Dairy championship results are just in, with the interbreed championship going the way of the Jersey breed.

On the second day of the Royal Highland show the dairy breeds took pride of place in the cattle rings. Four breeds took to the stage this morning, before the prestigious dairy interbreed category event took place in the evening when the Queens cup was presented to the overall champion.

Jerseys

It proved an exceptional championship for one family, which not only claimed the overall championship but also the reserve. The Laird family of Blythbridge started the morning by claiming the Jersey and Holstein championships, before going all the way to claim the top two positions under judge Willie Whiteford.

Pole position in the interbreed class went to their Jersey champion, Fourcross Anthony Carozza, exhibited by Izzy Laird. This EX93 classified third-calver ticked all the boxes for Jersey judge Sarah Pye. Having calved in December, the stylish cow is currently giving 28 litres/day. No stranger to winning ways, Carozza claimed the top spot in the Jersey championship at the UK dairy expo back in March and had secured the reserve championship at the Highland last year. This young cow is sired by Fourcross Anthony.

Izzy’s husband, Colin, was on the halter of the Holstein champion Blythbridge Jessy D2 Cou. Having come out as the overall Holstein champion earlier under well-known Cork breeder Ricky Barrett, the prime cow was tipped to the post by her Jersey penmate. Currently giving 52 litres, the stylish second-calver calved back in December and is projected for a yield in excess of 14,000kg. Classified at a max of VG89, Cou is sired by the renowned Maple Downs IGW Atwood.

Ayrshires

In the Ayrshire championship, D M Lindsay was out in front with Harperfield Eilene III. This third-calver of four weeks classified VG88 after her second calving and is well on track to exceeding this on her next evaluation. Currently giving 50kg, Eilene is coming off the back of a 9,000kg lactation. This win marks the Lindsay's first win at the Highland in over 30 years, having claimed it a massive seven times before that.

Shorthorns

Top of the dairy Shorthorn ring were Thomas and Stephen Moscrop with Irthingelt Tavia 2nd. This homebred cow is after four calves and currently giving 35 litres/day, having calved in January. Classified VG87, Tavia’s win marks the first Highland championship for the duo, having started showing three years ago. Sire behind the champion was Skyhigh Hartland.