Northern Ireland’s expanding renewable energy industry is hungry for good quality land, pricing out farmers and now seeking leases in the Republic. Rental values for productive grassland in the north coast area of Northern Ireland have seen a sharp increase within the past fortnight as competition intensifies between larger dairy units looking to expand and farmers looking to produce grass for anaerobic digestion (AD) plants in the area.
Farmers and auctioneers report prices as high as £450/acre (€512/acre) have been paid at auction for top-quality silage ground in the Coleraine area to supply AD plants. Other auctions have seen silage ground making over £400/acre (€457/acre). With limited ground coming on to the rental market, the knock-on effect has seen conacre prices for less productive grassland in the surrounding area also rising, with reports of £200/acre (€228/acre) to £300/acre (€342/acre)being paid on leases secured in January. While some of these prices are inflated by area-based payments, there is no doubt that AD plant operators are in a strong position to bid as a result of government subsidies for AD.
Operators of AD plants in Northern Ireland have also begun to lease land south of the border to grow feedstock such as grass or maize silage. One auctioneer, one farmer and one agribusiness representative in the border area of the Republic reported that farmers in north Co Monaghan had difficulty competing with NI biogas producers for land leases. While this is reported to be on a small scale and the sources had no figures available, pressure could increase in the future as renewable energy support schemes become available from the end of this year in the Republic.