EU plans to radically upscale the biomethane produced from anaerobically digested biomass were not discussed in the context of food security at the first meeting of the European food security crisis preparedness and response mechanism (EFSCM) on Wednesday, Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan has said.

The meeting was convened by the European Commission to report on the food supply chain situation in the EU following the invasion of Ukraine.

The production of biomethane is expected to expand to some 35 billion cubic metres per year as part of the Commission’s 10-year strategy to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas supplies.

The IFA president told the Irish Farmers Journal that much of the detail around anaerobic digestion facilities’ sourcing of feedstocks for the plan still needs clarification, with the possible diversion of grains away from animal feed representing a concern of Cullinan’s.

The communication issued by the Commission references that biogas should be produced from “in particular agricultural wastes and residues”, but gives no further explanation on sourcing the biomass.

“The feedstock for this gas would be my worry. I’m not sure where these feedstocks will be sourced. At the moment, we are struggling to get the grain to feed our pigs,” he said.

‘Unprecedented mobilisation’ of biomass

The umbrella European farm body COPA welcomed the Commission’s announcement of the new biomethane target for 2030 and stated that farmers were ready to act to see the EU’s energy autonomy improved.

The move will require an “unprecedent[ed] mobilisation of sustainable certified biomass feedstock” and the construction of thousands of new anaerobic digesters, the body said.

COPA also acknowledged that the policy change will allow more organic fertilisers to be produced from the digestate, paving the way to reach Green Deal targets in this area.

Farm opportunities

IFA poultry chair Nigel Sweetnam said that the drive to replace Russian fossil fuels in Europe should be taken as an opportunity to support farmers in diversifying to renewable energy production.

Sweetnam told the Irish Farmers Journal that the placement of solar panels on poultry housing would safeguard the sector from energy price volatility.

His comments came in the week where poultry farmers were hit with gas price increases that are set to strain already tight margins.

“There is no reason that there aren’t solar panels on every poultry house in the country. It is the perfect place for them,” the committee chair said.

“What is needed for the idea to take off is incentives. It is about time we started incentivising farmers to make energy, now more than ever,” he stated.

Solar panels

The Commission also said this week that it planned on publishing a European solar rooftops initiative in June of this year.

The plan would see a speeding up of the installation of solar panels on rooftops, on which COPA said farm buildings would be well suited.

Brussels plans on doubling the energy produced from wind and solar renewables by 2025, with this figure to be threefold the current energy generation by 2030.