Farmers across Ireland have been encouraged to grow renewable energy crops such as Willow for years.
Successive governments have rolled out grant subsidy support schemes, but with mixed results.
For some, it developed into a thriving business, but for many, it was yet another example of farm diversification projects that simply failed to deliver, and one such farmer appeared on RTÉ 1’s Ear to the Ground recently.
John Keeley was one of the first farmers in the country to plant willow under the state’s support scheme for renewable heat, established in 2008.
Farmers were grant-aided to grow willow with the prospects of two market outlets to supply biomass to power stations and woodchip to private commercial enterprises.
Predominately a sheep and beef farmer, he planted 9-acres of his land in Co Meath.
He explained to ETTG presenter, Darragh McCullough: “Willow, to me, seemed like the best option as it is a very easy crop to grow and yields very well in good arable land.”
“It is a crop that has almost no cost to establish it or work. That is one of the key attractions to it.”
“The idea was there would be many different outlets for it. I suppose at that time, there was great optimism as it was just before the boom when it all kicked off.”
“Hotels were being built all over the place, and it made so much sense, and it still makes sense.”
The presenter commented that the demand from the private sector “never materialised,” which left growers with only one “substantial” buyer for their willow that being the Bord na Mona power plant in Edenderry.
And this, in turn, impacted the price that farmers could achieve.
The farmer said he looked at the price of electricity per unit back in 2008, and it was circa 12 c, and at the time of the production of this segment, it was close to 48c.
However, he stated that “we have had little to no” price increase in what farmers receive for willow.
He commented: “The price we get for willow harvested and delivered is about €25/t. There is not enough money in it to make it attractive to farmers.”
Once he harvests his three remaining acres of willow, he will return the land to grassland production for his livestock.