The cultivation of miscanthus is a relatively new activity on Irish farms. Interest can be attributed to the decoupling of farm subsidies and Government targets and policies in the bioenergy sector. The Department has been grant-aiding farmers to plant miscanthus and willow since 2007 under the pilot Bioenergy Scheme. The key objectives of the Scheme were:
To increase the production of miscanthus and willow in Ireland by grant aiding establishment costs.
To contribute to GHG emissions reduction and carbon sequestration in the Agriculture sector by encouraging farmers to grow carbon neutral fuels.
To increase the supply of biomass feedstock in line with Government targets.
To complement other Government measures in the area of renewable energy.
To provide alternative land use opportunities for farm diversification and rural employment.
The Scheme provided farmers with a grant to cover 50% of the costs of establishment up to a maximum payment of €1,450 per hectare. Eligible costs include those associated with ground preparation, fencing, vegetation control, the purchase of planting stock and planting. The Scheme supported the planting of 2,100 hectares of miscanthus to the end of 2009. The average payment made to miscanthus growers was €9,800. In addition to establishment grants, areas planted with miscanthus qualify for the Single Farm Payment and for payments under REPS and the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme, subject to some restrictions on the areas planted.
The Department reviewed the operation of the pilot Bioenergy Scheme in 2009 to assess the need for a new Scheme from 2010 onwards. A new Bioenergy Scheme was announced in February 2010 to consolidate progress made during the pilot phase. The new Scheme will support miscanthus and willow cultivation to the end of 2012. €1 million is being made available to support the planting of a further 1,000 hectares in 2010. Farmers can avail of establishment grants worth €1,300 per hectare to cover 50% of the costs of establishment. The maximum payment per hectare has been reduced by €150 per hectare on the pilot Scheme to take account of lower establishment costs in 2010 and to comply with EU requirements that aid is based on the actual costs of establishment.
My Department and Teagasc continue to work with stakeholders to maximize the potential to grow miscanthus in Ireland. In 2008, Teagasc published a ‘Farm Diversification Manual' providing detailed technical advice to farmers on growing miscanthus and willow in Ireland. Together with Teagasc and Sustainable Energy Ireland, my Department co-funded an educational DVD ‘Willow and Miscanthus — from Field to Furnace'. My Department has also made available ‘Best Practice Guidelines' for growing miscanthus and willow under the Bioenergy Scheme. The guide provides advice to growers on planting and harvesting operations to maximise crop yield and improve the economic viability of the crop.
The Bioenergy Scheme has ignited considerable interest among farmers in growing miscanthus and willow. It has helped bring some scale to the sector and raised awareness of the potential to grow these crops under Irish conditions. Working in consultation with industry stakeholders and other government agencies, my Department will play its role in assisting the development of the sector.