Ulster Farmers Union president John Thompson has warned that time is running out for Northern Ireland to find a solution for the disposal of the country’s poultry litter.

His comments came after the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) issued the findings of a review, which appeared to snub the Rose Energy proposal – a large litter burning power plant for the province – stating that gasification was the best way forward.

But Mr Thompson said Rose Energy was the only viable solution.

“Little time remains for Northern Ireland to find a way to comply with the requirements of the EU’s Nitrates and Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directives.

“The poultry industry needs a long-term solution and scientific research has proved that the Rose Energy project so far is the only viable solution for poultry litter.”

Planning for Rose Energy was originally submitted by a producer consortium back in June 2008.

The £100m power station, which is planned to be built at Lough Neagh, Glenavy in County Antrim, would incinerate 250,000t of poultry litter and additional poultry waste each year, generating enough electricity to supply 25,000 homes.

A key driver behind the project was the EU Nitrates Directive, which was implemented in January 2007, restricting the amount of nitrogen farmers can spread on their land.

The industry produces around 260,000t of poultry litter a year and it is estimated this figure could rise to 400,000t within the next five to 10 years, if poultry expansion goes ahead.

Currently only 83,000t of poultry litter is managed sustainably, with the majority being used as fertiliser.

After assessing a range of alternative technologies for the disposal of poultry litter, including anaerobic digestion and thermal treatment, officials said gasification was the best way forward.

The DARD report also said the industry should consider options to reduce the cost of shipping litter outside NI by using bailing.

Commenting on the findings, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “I am aware of the opposition to the Rose Energy proposal and believe there are alternative approaches for the management and disposal of poultry litter.”

But Mr Thompson disagreed.

“It would appear that gasification has not yet been proven to deal with poultry litter elsewhere.

“The alternative which the report proposed does not address the need to secure a solution to this issue in the medium or longer term and would add very significant additional cost on an already economically stretched industry.”

He added: “The UFU has been actively seeking a resolution to this issue since 2002 and it’s frustrating that we are now in 2012 and we don’t seem to be any further forward.”

The review is the latest setback for the proposed development, which has already been met with fierce opposition from local residents and Lisburn City Council.

The environment minister for NI Alex Atwood is expected to make a decision in relation to the Rose Energy proposal imminently.