I, like 140 other business in Northern Ireland, have just submitted a planning application for an anaerobic digester. With a heat and electricity cost of more than £3 a pig and rising, the fixed commitment by our devolved government of four Renewables Obligation Certificates equalling 20p or thereabouts a unit, along with the prospects of free abundance of heat, makes it stack up.
But it’s not for the faint-hearted – with a huge investment needed of £1.5m and a hungry appetite for grass adding to the risks involved. I definitely don’t want to risk my farm on it. It remains to be seen if we can jump through all the hoops to get it up and running – I will try to keep you up to date with any developments.
The pig price is rising slower than I need, and I have tried to export some weaners to Scotland for finishing. But it seems Northern Ireland hasn’t got its Aujesky’s Disease status to the same level as the mainland’s even though an eradication scheme had been successful years ago. In practical terms this means that an approved isolation facility must be set up, and then two clear tests must be carried out 45-days apart – the last within 15 days of departure – and 130 pigs must be tested on a load of 500 and all individually identified.
The testing took three of us and the vet two hours – not a pleasant job to say the least. In the end it didn’t work out, due to failing to secure accommodation. But I feel it was useful to know the process. Hopefully this will get simpler soon. Northern Ireland pig farmers need to take advantage of cheaper feed costs and better pig prices in turn, maybe lowering the unfair UK:NI price differential that has plagued Northern Ireland too long.
Read more from our livestock farmer focus writersFarmer focus: Andrew McCrea