Leaving branches and bushes in the corner of fields to decompose over time is among the alternatives to burning, a new study commissioned by the Government has found.
he news comes as an extension to the rules allowing farmers to engage in the on-site burning of agricultural green waste in certain limited circumstances has been signed for the final time, the Department of Environment has confirmed.
The exemption, which expired on January 1, 2023, has now been extended until March 1, 2023.
It was also confirmed that the exemption will be reopened for a final three-month period from September 1, 2023, to November 30, 2023, to allow the agricultural sector to deal with waste accumulated in the interim.
The burning of household, garden, commercial or industrial waste is not permitted under the 2009 regulations.
In a statement issued by the Department of the Environment, a spokesperson said: “An exemption under the legislation, which has allowed farmers to dispose of waste generated by agricultural practices by burning as a last resort following strict application of the waste hierarchy, has been extended on several occasions.
“However, it was never intended that this exemption would extend in perpetuity, and this will be the final time such an extension will be granted.”
It’s thought the decision to extend this exemption for one final time arose from recommendations made in a recent study, commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, to examine alternative measures to the burning of agricultural green waste within the Irish context and assess the practicality of such alternatives.
This study, which was prepared by the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA), said both Departments would examine a range of measures “to ensure that the appropriate communication, awareness-raising and knowledge transfer measures are in place to support the agricultural sector in making a successful, orderly transition to alternative sustainable management practices”.
This study identified the following as the most feasible in the short to medium term:
- cut and draw materials arising into a pile in a field corner, to leave it to decompose over time (also acting as a haven for biodiversity);
- regular maintenance and flailing (with in-situ return to the ground of the material);
- wood-fuel from cuttings (dependent on quality of the material);
- alternative hedgerow management and practices — with practices such as coppicing and hedge-laying etc;
- alternative uses such as wood-chip, mulch and compost;
- biochar options — on-site production and use;
- on-farm animal bedding in some cases, depending on the nature of the material arising;
- for land clearance material, off-site use is the most preferable method — using specialist contractors, where an economic return is possible, but dependent on the individual situation and circumstances.
The study found a large majority of farmers surveyed directly were not aware that the exemption would end on January 1, 2023.
It also found open-air, in-field burning of this cut agricultural green waste in the past has been the lowest-cost and least labour-intensive option for management of this material, although this, it said, can come with its own environmental cost and impacts (these impacts are outlined in the report).
However, some of the “sustainable alternatives” identified in the report have associated financial outlay and labour costs.
“During the course of the consultation process, it has become clear that only some of the alternative uses are currently practised, which could be attributed to the lack of supporting measures for the alternatives,” it said.
From the consultation and survey process, the authors concluded it is clear that farmers are open to the alternatives.
However, they also said farmers are risk averse to any alternatives to burning cut agricultural green wastes based on additional cost, logistics, practicality and the perceived potential additional GHG emissions footprint of the alternatives, many of which require fuel for mechanical processing and transport.
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