Financial vulnerability is the ‘biggest obstacle’ to achieving climate action goals

The biggest obstacle to achieving climate action targets for agriculture is the “financial vulnerability” of many farms, said Tim Cullinan.

The chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association recently told an Oireachtas committee meeting that this vulnerability has a “significant impact” on farmers’ ability to adopt more sustainable practices, as it “limits their ability to test new practices and stifles innovation due to financial problems”. constraints”.

“Creating a viable alternative source of income for farmers is essential if the sector is to reduce emissions without negatively impacting the rural economy,” Mr Cullinan said in his brief to the environment committee. and Oireachtas climate action.

“Agriculture is a major part of the solution to climate change and with the right supports can continue to innovate and support Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon, climate-neutral economy.”

The committee recently held a meeting on anaerobic digestion (AD), with Mr Cullinan saying it “offers an important step towards a more sustainable agricultural system”.

He told the committee he can help reduce emissions, “particularly from livestock, helping to meet emission targets.”

He said that through the production of organic fertilizers, this will help “reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and reduce the wider environmental impacts of chemical fertilizer production”.

Mr. Cullinan added that this will contribute to the production of renewable electricity and heat for agricultural use and/or potentially create an additional source of income from the sale of heat, electricity or biomethane.

“Ireland’s uptake of renewable technologies at farm level is well below the European average,” he continued.

“In 2018, Ireland ranked 23rd among EU-27 countries for renewable energy generation from agriculture, producing just 2.6% compared to the EU-average. 27 by 12.1%.

Central players in the energy transition

Mr Cullinan stressed that farmers want to be “central players” in Ireland’s energy transition.

“They recognize the opportunities offered by renewable energy to produce energy for their own use but also to diversify their agricultural income by selling excess energy to the grid, thus improving the sustainability of their agricultural enterprise”, he said. he continued.

“AD is a natural fit for Ireland given our large livestock industry and manure availability.

Given the growing pressure to decarbonize the agricultural sector coupled with the continued pressure to meet our renewable transport and heat targets, AD provides a real solution.

In its submission to the committee, the Irish BioEnergy Association (IrBEA) said biogas production is common in Europe and globally, with “over 20,000 AD plants operational in the EU and several million worldwide “.

“Favorable policy measures are driving the development of the industry across Europe,” Sean Finan, managing director of IrBEA, told the committee.

“Currently, France is commissioning three to four biomethane plants per week, Denmark has a policy where a percentage of its slurry resource must be diverted to AD.

“Ireland lags far behind its EU counterparts in terms of policy development and use of this technology, with currently around 20 AD plants operating in Ireland.

“The lack of progress in developing an Irish biogas/biomethane industry is a missed opportunity for Ireland.”

He said the technology brings “many benefits” to the country, including energy security; decarbonize the dairy processing sector and cooperatives; and providing alternative agricultural enterprises, among many others.

Mr. Finan explained that the AD technology uses organic feedstocks and produces biogas under anaerobic conditions.

“The resulting material left after the AD process is called digestate and is valuable fertilizer,” he told the meeting.

“Raw biogas undergoes a cleaning process after it is produced by removing impurities.

“This biogas can be used as fuel for vehicles, as heating fuel or to generate electricity in a combined heat and power system. [CHP] plant.

“This biogas can also be further upgraded by removing CO2 and injected into the gas grid as biomethane.”

Mr. Finan said potential feedstocks that could be used include slurry and agricultural waste; grass and silage including clover and multi-species lawns grown without chemical fertilizers; food waste; horticultural green waste; and meat and dairy processing residues and wastes.

National Strategy

Meanwhile, Oireachtas Environment and Climate Action Committee member and Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan drafted a bill allowing the state to propose a national organic waste recycling strategy and convert them into biogas.

“By contributing positively to the decarbonisation of Irish agriculture and the generation of renewable energy through the use of anaerobic digestion, Irish farmers can play a key role in slowing the pace of climate change,” he said. -he declares.

“It’s not just agriculture that will benefit from and contribute to these facilities.

“There are more and more distilleries all over the country and they are struggling to get rid of the grain used in the distillation process.

Spent grain can be fed into anaerobic digesters, thus extending the life and use of grain and meeting certain circular economy objectives.

Mr O’Sullivan said an existing medium-scale anaerobic digester at Timoleague in West Cork “produces enough electricity to power 1,000 homes”.

“It is estimated that over a 10-year period it will have prevented around one million tonnes of carbon from escaping into the atmosphere,” he added.

“Ireland currently does not have a strategy or policy for anaerobic digestion, and barriers to the establishment and operation of ADs have prevented the expansion of this renewable, low-carbon technology.

“A national strategy will encourage the expansion of this technology across Ireland and in doing so provide a secure source of renewable energy.”

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