The Irish Grain Growers Association was set up over two years ago due to a lack of representation in our sector. I will give a brief synopsis of the tillage sector in its current form. The total area under tillage in 2017 is 316,000 ha. This is made up of 264,000 ha of cereals and the remaining 52,000 ha is made up of beet, maize, rapeseed and protein crops. It is interesting to note that the cereal acreage is down 5.7% in 2016 and over 14% in the past five years. These are scary figures for us. It must be noted that there were over 1 million hectares of arable area in pre-war times. A focus on beef and dairy cattle to supply the British market, as a result of a vast proportion of grassland there had been ploughed up to produce cereals and vegetables to feed Britain's growing population, resulted in the majority of land here being used to produce monocrop grass and the tillage areas remained in a few small pockets throughout the country, mainly in the south, the east and the midlands. The area of land used for arable farming in Ireland is under 9% of the total of land in agricultural use. The remaining land is either grassland for beef, dairy or sheep, approximately 80%, or managed forestry, 10.8%.
We currently need to import over 1 million tonnes of animal feed every year. Ireland's temperate climate allows for some of the consistently highest yields in the world. The importance of the Irish tillage sector should not be overlooked. One acre of malt barley has the ability to produce over €60,000 in revenue per annum for the Exchequer. Bee, bird and wildlife populations thrive in well-managed tillage areas because there is always a constant supply of food for them. Locally produced crops keep jobs local. Employees in haulage, storage, processing and machinery sales and merchants and agronomists are all needed in this regard. Imported crops do not produce as many of these jobs in the economy.
We envisage a growing demand for premium food grade crops for use in the beverage industry and export food market, such as gluten-free oats and malt barley. We would like to see native wheat replace 90,000 tonnes of imported maize used in some Irish whiskeys. Irish whiskey production is set to increase by 300% by 2030. Demand for malt is forecast to rise from 200,000 tonnes to 300,000 tonnes. In the region of 4,000 tonnes of barley were used in the production of craft beers in 2016 and this is forecast to be 24,000 tonnes by 2020.
There has been a 31% increase in the number of dairy cows and the national herd overall has increased from 6.3 million to 7.4 million. Dairy cattle in particular require more protein, and an area of increased demand is Irish produced protein to replace imported genetically modified, GM, soya, which would give a fully traceable guaranteed Irish, non-GM product. The protein payments have greatly increased the use of, and demand for, beans and peas in rations.
As stated, the area under arable during pre-war times was over 1 million ha. A lot of land is under-utilised and there are many "naked acres" across the country. We are seeing a drop in area in tillage, mainly due to poor pricing of the products. If there was a fair price, farmers would be eager to produce more. We have the land base and technology to produce all of our feed and should not require any imports of animal feed. The Irish climate is almost perfectly suited to growing cereals. While we have difficult conditions, particularly around harvest, for example, this year, we do not have the extremes that other nations do, which gives us a reasonably consistent yield of grain.
We need first to promote our non-GM status and push for fully traceable beef, dairy, pigs and poultry to be completely GM-free using non-GM proteins in rations. There is no doubt that there are potential benefits to growing GM crops but it is viewed negatively by the premium consumer and we believe that Ireland, as an island nation, has a unique advantage in establishing a completely GM-free end-use product using native grains. There are endless marketing possibilities for Irish products if there is linked-up thinking between all sectors and relevant bodies. That said, tillage farmers should be rewarded for growing these crops with a unique selling point. It is impossible to try to produce these premium products while competing with imported GM feed. We would seriously encourage the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, Bord Bia, Origin Green and farmers to consider the idea of a GM-free Ireland. It must be understood that there are big changes in the area of GM and what is classified as such. Some farmers in the UK were in favour of Brexit because they thought it might open them to using GM technology on their crops. If we were to consider the idea of a GM-free Ireland, farmers would need a premium or it would not work.
Organic farming has great potential in Ireland and needs to be supported. Many cattle and sheep farmers are farming organically already and do not realise it. For the majority of grain farmers, however, the issue is marketing and selling the product. Apart from organic oats, there is not a huge demand for organic barley. The market for organic beer is a relatively small and the organic beef industry does not have the demand for organic barley or wheat that would entice people to convert vast areas used for conventional cereal production. Most organic beef is grass fed or finished on home grown forage crops.
The real future crops are those suited to Irish conditions, namely, barley, wheat, sugar beet, oats, beans, peas and rapeseed. The use of first-generation energy crops can have a positive impact on food and energy. Rapeseed can be used to produce pure plant oil, which can be mixed with diesel fuel, and a food oil. The crop produces approximately one third oil and two thirds cake, which is the by-product that can be used in animal feed. Likewise, sugar beet can be used to produce ethanol to be mixed with petrol. These crops can be considered multi-use in nature because of their ability to be used in the production of food or fuel. In both cases, the by-products can be used in animal feed. These crops are break crops, which means that they form an integral part of crop rotation and give a yield boost in the following cereal crop. Sugar beet, along with maize, can be used in anaerobic digestion, AD. Again, these are both break crops and their use gives better yields in the following crop. The by-product of AD, digestate, is a valuable fertiliser. Feed-in tariffs and renewable heat incentive to encourage capital investment in plants are required to encourage farm-scale AD plants, which have the added benefit of taking significant pressure off the electricity grid and keeping production local. There are many farm-scale AD plants operating in the UK and continental Europe.
Rather than encouraging valuable land out of production to grow energy crops such as miscanthus and willow, a better use of straw in combined heat and power, CHP, plants would be a more advisable route. Miscanthus and willow are single-use crops and, if required, could be grown on more marginal land. There is a need for 40,000 to 50,000 ha of energy crops to act as a carbon sink to mitigate against the 7.4 million cattle in the country. All arable crops can help to mitigate against this because arable farming is carbon neutral at worst. The introduction of more first-generation energy crops provides a more diverse rotation and encourages more ecological activity increasing, in particular, worm and bee populations.