Positive Outlook for Tillage Farming at Teagasc National Tillage Conference
31 January 2007
An improving grain market, producing and processing biofuels and coping with cross compliance regulations were among the issues addressed at the Teagasc National Tillage Conference which took place in Carlow, today, Wednesday, 31 January 2007.
The conference was officially opened by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Brendan Smith TD. Speaking at the conference Mr Smith said that the recent rally in grain prices has led to a new optimism for the tillage sector and that the recent publication of the Government's Green Paper 'Towards a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland' sets out the framework and proposed options and directions for energy policy to 2020 including the setting of a series of renewable energy targets to be achieved by 2020.
These include a 30% increase in electricity consumed from renewable sources, a 5% share of fuel used for heat purposes by 2015 and a 5.75% share in transport bio-fuels by 2010. We are also aiming for 30% co-firing of biomass at peat fired generating stations by 2015. Our objective with these targets is to increase substantially the contribution of bio-energy in transport, heat and electricity generation and to create new opportunities for agriculture and rural Ireland, he said.
Bernard Rice, Teagasc researcher, Oak Park spoke on supplying the biofuels sector and highlighted the need to improve the profitability of growing and processing energy crops. He said: "There is still an over-riding problem that the profitability of producing and processing biofuel crops remains very low. If the industry is to develop to a significant scale, ways of improving profitability must be found."
He pointed out that REPS participants are excluded from energy crop production and he recommended that this anomaly be eliminated. He believes that the promised establishment grant scheme, along with VAT exemption on planting materials to offset the high initial cost of perennial energy crops such as willow and miscanthus, will be needed.
Bernard Rice also recommended that a change from excise relief on transport biofuels to substitution obligations on oil companies should be introduced gradually as the biofuel production industry matures.
All farmers are currently examining how the cross compliance requirements and the Nitrates Directive will impact on their business. Tim O' Donovan, Teagasc tillage specialist, acknowledged that regulations will pose a serious challenge to all farmers but the majority of tillage farmers will be able to continue to grow crops profitably while complying with the Directive.
He said: "The main issue for tillage farmers will be the nutrient management element of the Directive. Growers will need to be more precise about timing and rates of Nitrogen and Phosphorous applications. Organic manures must be treated as a valuable source of nutrients. New thinking and novel technologies will be needed when applying organic manures to crops in order to get the maximum benefit from them."
To help farmers manage nutrients and calculate their new fertilizer limits, Teagasc has developed a software programme to calculate the total farm fertilizer allowance and slurry storage on the farm.
Other topics addressed at the conference included the increasing problem of fungicide resistance in crops, new technologies to exploit pig slurry on tillage farms, the potential of organic crops and options to reduce costs and increase profits.