Written Answers. - Agricultural Research.

Dan Boyle

Question:

8 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will ensure research is carried out and composting and vermiculture options put in place for the horse, livestock and mushroom industries. [19166/03]

Agricultural research is primarily the responsibility of Teagasc. The principles of composting-vermicomposting are well understood and the techniques are widely applied where appropriate. Some research has already been carried out on addressing the problem of managing the 300,000 tonnes of spent mushroom compost, SMC, produced by the Irish mushroom industry annually. The results indicate that spent mushroom compost can be used with beneficial effects in field crop production and in the landscaping industry. Vermiculture was considered, but was not deemed capable of accommodating the huge quantities of SMC involved.

At farm level, my Department places high importance on the proper disposal of waste and has a number of measures in place to encourage this. Through the farm waste management scheme, grant-aid is specifically made available to farmers to improve waste-disposal facilities at farm level. Similar assistance is available through the alternative enterprises scheme for farmers involved in more diverse forms of animal husbandry, including horses, deer and goats. In all cases, assistance is primarily directed towards structural works designed to increase storage capacity, while under the farm waste management scheme, grant-aid is also available for the provision of mobile equipment for spreading.

Neither composting nor vermiculture is specifically included for grant-aid in these two schemes, although the provision of dungsteads, which facilitates composting, is eligible for assistance. Both composting and vermiculture are more likely to be undertaken by farmers as a small on-farm enterprise, designed for onward sale of product, rather than as a means of spreading waste on their own land. In addition most of the stored animal manure from agriculture is in the form of slurry, which is an unsuitable medium for worms.

My Department also promotes environmentally-friendly waste disposal in other ways. The rural environment protection scheme, REPS, promotes the efficient use of nutrients in an environmentally friendly manner through the nutrient management plan. This involves a systematic evaluation of all nutrient sources available and required on the farm and sets limits on the application rates for animal and other wastes. The scheme of grant aid for the development of the organic sector also specifically encourages the use of production methods that do not damage the environment.