The 400,000ha target of land under tillage by 2030 in the Climate Action Plan is an opportunity to redevelop the sector and part of that target could be reached by planting sugar beet, Pat Cleary of the Irish Grain Growers Group has said.

He told a meeting of the group in Meath on Monday night that the sector has been decimated over a 40-year period due to a lack of support on policy at national level.

“Dare I say it … if there’s going to be a 400,000ha target, surely to God there should be an allocation of at least 25,000ha to 30,000ha of sugar beet, another sustainable crop,” he said.

Cleary, who was involved in Beet Ireland, the group which tried to get a sugar industry up and running again in Ireland after 2010, said a 30,000ha target is feasible.

“Beet Ireland is still a limited company. We still own the same site that we bought for the sugar factory. We have it in for zoning for an agri-food hub at the moment,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal.

The Kildare tillage farmer said there is €1.3bn set aside in the coming years for forestry. He said he would like to see €350m to €400m allocated for setting up a sugar beet processing plant.

“The growers will grow. We’re in the catchment area for it. If they’re going to take beef farmers out of production what are they going to do? What can they grow? They want us to grow cereals. You need a crop rotation and sugar beet was a great break crop.”

Michael Hoey, who was chair of Beet Ireland and is the managing director of Country Crest, told the meeting that “we tried for a long time to bring the sugar industry back”.

“If that industry was running today, it would be extremely profitable because the price of all of those commodities is rising.”