Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach and members of the committee for inviting Dolan Industries to speak on this important subject matter; the exploration of technologies that may exist in the effort to reduce emissions in the agriculture sector. Dolan Industries is a limited small and medium enterprise, SME, company. We are traditionally an agriculture-based company. More than 60% of the products and services it supplies are agricultural in origin. Today we will be discussing the massive advantages of variable rate prescription-based nutrient application in the agricultural sector. The existing technology incorporated by Dolan Industries Limited can provide not only a monumental cost savings to Irish farmers, it can also mitigate and considerably reduce environmental impacts caused by nutrient and chemical fertiliser application.
Dolan Industries Limited is fortunate to be based in an area populated by some of the most intelligent and forward-thinking farmers on this island. Because of the absence of vast areas of land in our area, farmers are constantly and consistently adapting to new methods to maximise their profits. These farmers and customers have served as teachers, advisers and inspiration for the majority of the services Dolan Industries offers. One of Dolan Industries services includes the supply and spreading of chemical-based fertilisers and it is this service that has brought us before the committee. Dolan Industries supplies and spread between 1,300 and 1,800 tonnes of chemical fertiliser per annum. This is a small amount in the grand scale of fertiliser sold throughout Ireland.
For this operation of almost 20 years, a simple blanket-based spreading system has been used, along with global positioning system, GPS, guidance. This system is the most commonly used throughout Ireland. While GPS has a good advantage in reducing overlap, it has become somewhat outdated and the old blanket-based spreading system, while adequate for its time, resulted in waste and sometimes possibly produced erratic spread patterns due to variation between granulated fertilisers and its prilled counterparts. Dolan Industries Limited decided to begin to fully overhaul its existing fertiliser operation during the latter half of 2020 by buying the latest cutting edge technology and incorporating additional peer reviewed technology adapted from predominantly tillage-based farming. This would include: additional upgraded GPS systems; automatic steering tractor guidance; variable rate section control; auto stop-start fertiliser spreading; and a utility vehicle, UTV, linking system from office to tractor. Dolan industries has recently successfully incorporated and amalgamated this available technology into a grass-based setting.
The technology and service Dolan Industries now offers has huge benefits in reducing the negative effects on sustainability, biodiversity and environmental consequences associated with nutrient applications on farm level.
Prescription-based variable rate technology is the application of farm nutrients, such as compound chemical fertilisers, lime, slurry and alternative products, over a predetermined area of land utilising different precise targeted rates of application. The advantages include a reduction in compound fertiliser. Precise amounts of phosphorus, potassium and lime can now be applied and targeted over vast areas. This method is used in conjunction with more environmentally-friendly nitrogen or urea-based accelerants such as protected ureas and terracan. There is an accurate targeted approach. Each area of land will get a precise level of various nutrients predetermined by prescription-based mapping software, which, in turn, is transferred wirelessly to the machinery to complete the application.
On the mitigation of environmental impacts, by pre-mapping external and internal field boundaries using specialised equipment or desktop software, we can mark areas sensitive to environmental impact. The machinery doing the application will then be unable to spread near buffer zones and protected areas making water contamination almost impossible. The accurate real-time uploadable and downloadable data is automatically recorded. Utilising this technology can confidently save a farmer 15% of his annual fertiliser costs above standard nutrient application and 10% above standard GPS guided spreader application.
Characteristics of soil type, texture, soil pH and nutrient requirements are pinpointed to certain areas of land by collecting soil samples using GPS grid referencing and then uploaded to map-creating software. Also marked and pinpointed are nutrient-sensitive zones, special areas of conservation, SACs, special protected areas, SPAs, water buffer zones, ground water courses, river banks and riparian margins. Soil samples are analysed by the laboratory and the resulting data are returned and uploaded into a previously created map. The farmer and landowner is consulted and a nutrient application plan is drawn up. It is worth noting that data received by soil sampling enables farmers to forward buy fertilisers at different times of the year. This may help in forward planning and improve cost savings.
The fertiliser, being a compound or straight depending on the best value and its application rate, is populated to the maps and then emailed or transferred to the tractor and machinery via USB. When it is time to spread, the tractor and spreader arrives in the field and the data transfer is automatically uploaded and activated. The tractor and spreader then automatically steers around the field and opens and closes the spreader according to the predetermined rate set through the mapping software. A blanket spread rate using compound fertiliser is also possible.
It is also worth noting that any spreader using this type of technology will start and stop spreading at exactly the correct moment. It will also continue to reduce its spreading width at angles and eventually shut off completely when nearing the sensitive areas of conservation, as previously discussed. This removes all operator error completely. The completed map area, rate applied, date and time is then logged and recorded. This information can also be emailed back to the office or sent to a cloud server.
Dolan Industries understands fully the degradation of water quality in Ireland. It can be associated with nitrates, phosphates and leaching from farm land. It is the belief that, under our environmental and climate obligations, by adapting this technology water quality in Ireland can be improved as a result.
The benefits of using variable rate technology are not only improving but maximising crop yields; greater farm efficiency and productivity by harnessing better use of chemical and organic fertilisers; major cost saving benefits to farmers from accurate applications; no over or under application of fertilisers in each land parcel; improving soil indexes and fertility; less run off and soil leaching; greater protection of nutrient sensitive zones; and full transparency and data collection of work done.
Everybody here today is aware of the parabolic increase in chemical fertilisers over the past few months due primarily to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Irish farmers, along with those in the rest of European Union, are under enormous pressure to be able to produce enough food. While it is a precarious time, I believe it will allow for unprecedented opportunities in the agricultural sector. The realisation that food security is of paramount importance is about to hit home shortly.
A percentage of farmers have not yet secured their fertiliser for this season. Shortages, delayed delivery times and outrageous prices have resulted in a serious crisis. The totality of this crisis has yet to play out and farmers, unable to either buy or secure fertiliser, will have no option but to de-stock and reduce production. This will have significant unforeseen consequences for Ireland's rural economy and could have potential animal welfare repercussions this winter.
It should be the Government's objective to maximise food productivity in an environmentally-sustainable manner. The technology we have incorporated can allow this immediately. However, the immediate problem is the significant cost of fertiliser at this time. Farmers need alternatives and they need them quickly.
There is one such alternative Dolan Industries Limited and Biocore Environmental Limited would like to put through its testing and analysis phase immediately. Dolan Industries Limited along with Biocore Environmental Limited feel that Irish agriculture as a whole would benefit more from sustainable solutions by creating an indigenous supply of bio-fertiliser on the island through the use of dried digestate, liquid digestate and bio-solids from anaerobic digestion and bio-methane facilities which currently exist in the country. This would help greatly in complementing the use of standard chemical-based fertilisers. Currently these valuable sources of nutrients are highly sought after due to the current fertiliser crisis. Unfortunately, these are classed as waste products and not by-products or, indeed, valuable sources of nutrients for farmers at a fraction of the price of current chemical fertilisers. In order to change this, it is recommended that the Government fast-track legislation and classification of these highly valuable and environmentally-sustainable nutrients as products.
Currently the anaerobic digestion sector is in its infancy in Ireland. However, it offers solutions in providing renewable sustainable locally-sourced and produced bio-fertilisers. If legislation can be changed quickly, it would help avert some of the effects of this current fertiliser crisis. This would also allow for Ireland to create its own indigenous supply of fertiliser as a result of also creating renewable energy, helping the country achieve its climate targets by the end of the decade.
On classifying digestates as a by-product and natural fertiliser, a reclassification would allow the anaerobic digestion industry to work side by side to grow and develop and with greater policy initiatives and measures developing the supply of renewable energy and fertiliser, tackling climate change and protecting soils and water quality. With this in mind, combining the latest technology in terms of prescription-based variable rate nutrient application maps will offer full transparency to all relevant authorities and regulatory bodies on how and where the nutrients have been applied. It is also recommended that these products are applied using only variable rate technology, data recording and prescription-based mapping in order to fully maximise best practice and ensure fully transparent traceability of all applications of nutrients regardless of location to all relevant authorities, locally, nationally and at European level.
Dolan Industries Limited is aware that there are proposals currently in place to allow farmers to get 25% of their payment through the pillar 1 eco-scheme by utilising GPS-controlled fertiliser spreading services, such as ours. We strongly agree with and welcome this proposal which will serve as a catalyst in accelerating Ireland's environmental responsibilities.
Targets to reduce ammonium nitrate uses by 20% to 30% by 2030 is not only achievable by that time but, with correctly-targeted funding, can be achieved in a much shorter timeframe. The technology incorporated by Dolan Industries Limited can be implemented and replicated on a national level in a very short timeframe as most new machinery and skilled professional contractors have the capability to achieve this.
Additionally, the spreader alone, while an advantage, is only capable of achieving a fraction of the economic and environmental advantages set out in this report. Additional to the spreader, it is recommended to take and utilise up-to-date soil samples and use additional GPS receivers, mobile utility vehicles, UTVs, or desktop software for creating internal and external field boundaries, participate in equipment training and upload data to cloud software. Only when all of this is achieved will the full extent of this technology be utilised. As a result, Dolan Industries recommends registered agricultural contractors with appropriate training carry out this work on farms where it is unfeasible for farmers to purchase this level of machinery.
For Dolan Industries Limited and other agricultural contractors the initial cost of this service and equipment is intensive in both labour and resources. Dolan Industries Limited is currently involved in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Government-backed soil sampling programme. A joint venture between IAS Laboratories and Dr. Eoghan Finneran's company Farmeye indicates the soil test is of the utmost importance to the first stage of the variable rate technology, where and what to spread being the primary objective. Dolan Industries Limited is aware of the continuation and expansion of the soil sampling programme and the additional funding allocated to it.
It is a very welcome addition to the farming and agricultural community. Dolan Industries suggests that, along with the proposed Pillar 1 eco-scheme involving 25% additional extra funding being given to farmers willing to use the full totality this service, progressive environmentally concerned farmers should be, and must be, rewarded rather than penalised because viable alternatives are not yet mainstream. Additional funds to be received by farmers will mitigate the large labour costs to the contractor on initial set-up. Further payments over a three- to five-year period to maintain and continue the service are also recommended. Without these supports in place, farmers will simply not avail of these services and will continue to apply nutrients using older outdated spreader and GPS systems. This can only serve to subvert and undercut attempts by progressive businesses that are trying to move forward both technically and environmentally. If environmental concerns are of paramount importance, Government support on this issue is needed quickly.
To summarise, Dolan Industries recommends that a Pillar 1 25% eco-scheme for GPS-guided spreaders be implemented along with the uploading of map data and information on work done to a central data server. The reclassification of digestate and bio-solids as a by-product fertiliser, provided they are applied using a farm nutrient plan coupled with the uploading of mapping data and the use of variable-rate spreading technology, should be fast-tracked. Additional funding should be given in stages to environmentally and economically concerned farmers who are utilising some or all of the services outlined, with the maximum funds available to those utilising the service in its totality. Additional maintenance payments for the service's upkeep should be phased out over a three- to five-year period. This will allow all farmers to enter the system, upload all farm data and output farm data. I again thank the committee for the invitation.