ICSA president Patrick Kent has said plans by the Beet Ireland group to revive the sugar beet sector in Ireland “are worthy of careful consideration by tillage farmers” and the Government should look at helping “in every way possible.
“The loss of sugar beet was a huge blow to the tillage sector and its effects are still evident to this day. Price per ton will be a critical issue to farmers but the potential to build a sustainable business for the long term is key.
“The growing demand for sugar is obviously a central consideration but modern beet processing provides many opportunities for diversified by-products. This would also be beneficial to the livestock sector with the ready availability of beet pulp nuts which have traditionally been a valued component of cattle rations.
“Sugar beet has been badly missed as a useful break crop. Tillage farmers are well aware of the need for crop rotation, but it is also a requirement for the CAP greening payment. Without sugar beet, the options for crop rotation are much more limited and make less sense in terms of soil management. It is also worth noting that modern
varieties of sugar beet are improving all the time in terms of yield. While current prices in the UK look weak, longer term it is very difficult to say where that market is going given Brexit uncertainty.
“However, a more significant factor may be the future of EU renewable energy policy. Negotiations around the RED II directive are moving into a critical phase at the EU parliament plenary session in the coming week (January 15) and it is vital that the Irish government and Irish MEPs support more not less biofuels in order to deliver the decarbonising of transport and as a way of supporting EU farmers.
“Another factor will be the blending rate for biofuels at a member state level. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is considering increasing the biofuel obligation rate from the current 8% and this, along with decisions in other member states, will potentially increase the demand for biofuels if the right call is made.
“Countries such as France produce biofuels from sugar beet, although farmers in the UK and mainland Europe more typically grow wheat, maize and rapeseed for biofuels.
“Either way, increased demand for biofuels will be critical in determining the outlook for European tillage farmers and this will indirectly influence the profitability of sugar beet in Ireland.”
It would appear the EU is backing away from its existing policy on biofuels.
According to the ICSA, leaked Commission proposals apparently reveal moves to slash the target for the crop biofuel component of EU transport fuels from 7% to 3.4% by 2030.
President of the Association, Patrick Kent said the Commission “which was supportive of biofuels has now decided to reverse its position without any scientific basis for so doing.”
The strategy, he said, “flies in the face of logic.
“What the Commission is proposing to do will deny tillage farmers access to an important income stream and also puts at risk tens of thousands of jobs across Europe.”
It will also, he said, end investor interest in EU biofuels, have a direct knock-on effect on the efforts to revive the Irish sugar industry and make it harder to achieve EU targets to cut GHG emissions from road traffic.
“Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of the direction the Commission is taking the EU is that the problem which it is trying to solve – the upsurge in palm oil imports into Europe – has nothing to do with European farmers and could be resolved if the Commission and the Member States applied the sustainability criteria set out in EU law and adopted a more differentiated approach to biofuels than the simplistic approach now being advanced.”
He said, “ICSA wants to see crop-based biofuels supported because they offer a real option for hard- pressed farmers to make money rather than being totally reliant on food and feed which are in surplus in Europe.
“We see desperate attempts to find new markets for food everywhere from China to Africa which reflects the fact that EU farmers are producing more food and feed than we can consume in Europe. Yet we have spent years listening to lectures about how EU farmers should not be supported to produce excess food which would be then ‘dumped’ in Africa to the detriment of African agriculture.”
“Sustainable crop-based biofuels provide a win-win in Europe. Contrary to the ludicrous notion that forests will be levelled and bogs drained, crop-based biofuels can fill multiple roles from each hectare grown.
“A hectare used for biofuels still produces top class animal feed as a by-product of the fuel production process. As an additional bonus, the by-product feed is higher in protein and thus reduces the need for soya imports from South America.
“In truth, it is the over-dependence on soya imports that is the real cause of forest destruction albeit in South America. There is no credible evidence of struggling farmers in Europe making totally uneconomic investments to reclaim forest or bog to produce animal feeds for livestock systems that are barely viable in 2016.”
“For years now, we have listened to EU Commissioners laud the multifunctional character of EU agriculture. In part, this was because both WTO rules and NGO pressures were hostile to policies which subsidised extra food exports from Europe. It is now hypocritical to reverse direction and say that much needed renewable fuels are no longer acceptable and that we should go back to expanding food exports to markets in the least developed countries.
He said the ICSA is now calling on all of the parties in Dail Eireann to “live up to the undertakings that they have given on the issue of sugar/biofuel production” and to reject at national and EU level any cuts in the existing EU support for this.