Today, the EFARAS Conference took themed tours. I was on the Renewable Energy Tour and Brad was on the Agritourism Tour. For the Renewable Energy, we first travel to a landowner with forestry production. John O’Connell focuses primarily on ash production. He has a niche market for selling lumber for hurling (Ireland’s National Sport). In addition, he also grows shiitake mushrooms. HIs process is very similar to the United States with inoculating logs, but he receives about 9 years of production from logs. In addition, he has imported oak trees preinoculated with truffles and has set up an orchard to basically to harvest truffles. One interesting fact that Michael Sommers, TEAGASC Forestry Advisor, shared was that prior to 1500 that Ireland was 60% tree cover. He argues that the internal knowledge gained from many generations is all gone and that Ireland is just now gaining back its knowledge of forestry.
Next, we traveled to Gurteen College in Ofaly County. Gureteen is an agriculture college that was started in 1947. The college is hands on with students learning how to do and how to manage. It’s degree is the equalivalent of a community college. The college is privately operated by a board of trustees, but TEAGASC and the government pay the teacher salaries. The college has places for the students to stay on campus and a little over 414 ha (1,023 ac) farm. They have 150 dairy cows, 270 beef cattle, 600 sheep, few horses, and they grow several small grains. The enrollment of the college has doubled since 2008 with economic downturn. Prior, the school had roughly 150 students in each year and now it has 300 student in each year. The total entrollment around 600. To save money, the school has moved to renewable energy sources with cost share assistance in the beginning from the government. The school has a 50 kW wind turbine that produces about 25% of their electricity. The school also has two wood chip broilers and the school grows its own willow to feed the broilers. Willow is on about 8% of the school land based and heats the entire school. The cost to the school for energy is about 1 cent a kW and if they where to use oil the cost would be about 7 cents a kW.
After Gurteen College, we traveled to see Birr Castle’s gardens. The castle has extensive gardens with trees and plants from all over the world. Many are very rare and even some like Giant Sequoia from the United States. The castle also has a telescope that was built in the mid 1800s. At the time, it was the largest in the world.