Farmers who have a few acres to spare should consider cutting it for silage and selling it to an anaerobic digestion plant to produce biomethane renewable gas, Biocore CEO Declan Murray has said.
Speaking in front of the joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture on Wednesday, Murray said that by integrating farming into a potential biomethane strategy for Ireland would be a mutually beneficial move.
Murray's anaerobic digestion plant is located in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, and was founded in 2010.
"We would not expect all the farmers in Roscommon to start growing silage for our plant tomorrow morning, but we would certainly be in a position to say if your land is under-utilised and you've got two acres, why don't you cut some silage and I'll buy it off you. I'm not going to take all your 122ac or 60ac," he said.
Throughout the country, there is currently a large amount of feedstock going to landfill or being spread on land because it has to be, not because it's necessarily the right thing to do for the grass, he added.
Ireland should look at Germany to see how German farmers have benefited from the industry, he suggested.
Irish Bioenergy Association CEO Sean Finan outlined the risks and opportunities associated with anaerobic digestion.
He said that he would be strongly against the introduction of a biomethane strategy that doesn't ensure everyone along the supply chain gets a fair return.
"We need to ensure that it’s not set up on the basis that it gives renewable gas and it doesn’t pay for the provision of feedstock.
"If you don’t pay for feedstock, you’ll end up with similar issues of other industries where the farmer isn’t getting a percentage of the final return that they require in order to be viable," he argued.
In relation to the competition for feedstocks, Finan said that the facilities need to be located in parts of the country where there is less competition.
"A potential strategy should look at parts of the country that are potentially ready to go in terms of a biomethane sector," he said.
There are risks but there are lots of ways that these can be alleviated.
There’s a potential concern among the farming community, he said, about the movement of grass silage from livestock feed to biomethane gas production.
"One thing that is very clear is that there is an opportunity whereby Biocore or any other facility can stockpile silage and if farmers run short of silage for a period of time, that feedstock can be used by farmers in the meantime," he said.
He said that it would be very important that the industry is built on a phased basis and that from each new plant that is built, lessons are taken from it.