A bio energy specialist with Teagasc says that farmers in Mayo could lead the way when it comes to Ireland's energy crop sector, following the announcement of a new biomass power plant for Killala.
Mr Barry Caslin said there will be a large demand for the crop from the new €180 million combined heat and power plant, which is being developed by Mayo Renewable Power Limited at the old Asahi Plant in Killala.
However, he said alot of work is needed to develop the new sector properly, to give farmers the confidence to sow willow and the structures to reap the rewards.
A spokesperson for Mayo Renewable Power Ltd told the Mayo Advertiser the company is planning to hold an open day for farmers to learn about willow but the date for the event has not yet been set.
The spokesperson said the plant will be offering local farmers a fixed price for their energy crop.
"It should be an interesting proposition," he said. "There is a market there and farmers will know the price before they sow."
Willow is a perennial crop which can be harvested every two years in the west of Ireland, thanks to the year round mild climate.
Mr Caslin said farmers growing willow could deliver the energy equivalent of 5,000 litres of kerosene home heating oil per hectare (2.47 acres ) per year and the crop may well prove to be a more lucrative option for many farmers here compared to sheep or beef.
Mr Caslin said the whole area of energy crops is still "very much in its infancy in Ireland" but, if properly developed, it could help Ireland meet its European renewable energy targets for 2020 and cut the country's carbon bill.
"Sixteen per cent of our total final consumption of energy has to come from renewables by 2020," outlined Mr Caslin.
"For every one per cent that we miss our target by, that will cost Ireland €150 million in carbon fines. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the best case now is that we will miss our target by 2 per cent. The worst case is 4 per cent.
"That's enough to focus the mind."
Mr Caslin said he believes demand for biomass will increase sharply as 2020 approaches and the Government moves to incentivise the use of biomass.
"The sooner we get involved in developing this market, the better," he pointed out.
"Now that there is a demand in the area for willow, a definite market, that is the first step. The second step is to develop the knowledge [in the farming sector] on the crops and how to supply them."
Mr Caslin said farmers will also have to have full confidence that they will get a good price for their crop.
"Farmers will only consider something if it is economically viable, compared to what they are doing now," he outlined.
"What the Mayo Renewable Power plant is prepared to pay will have to provide a decent margin for farmers if they are to go into a brand new business venture.
The sector will also need definite structures for farmers to get their crop from the field to the market, added Mr Caslin.