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Food & Fuel: Renewables Support Profitable Farming

Food & Fuel: Renewables Support Profitable Farming

27 March 2014

UK - It is NFU policy that, alongside food production, some farmers diversify into low-carbon renewable energy services of all kinds.

Such developments are often complementary to profitable agriculture and can enhance farm succession, especially where farmers own their own renewable energy assets or otherwise benefit from new income streams.

Farmland has been used for both food and energy production for hundreds of years, providing fuel for heating, cooking and traction power, as well as crops and pasture.

Anaerobic digestion (AD) helps to deliver multiple environmental benefits, including low-carbon energy, avoidance of methane emissions, and improved nutrient and soil management.

The NFU is particularly supportive of smaller-scale AD plants (typically 25kW to 250 kW electrical capacity) that can be most readily integrated into typical farm sizes, processing mostly manures, slurries, discards, outgrades and residues from farming.

However, most AD plants also require a source of high-energy crop feedstock for co-digestion in order to be profitable and financeable.

The deployment of AD in Britain has been relatively slow compared with other renewable energy options, and at the end of 2013 only about one-third of the 125 or so new AD plants were located on farms.

The NFU recognises a broad range of views among its members, and we continue to discuss our policy position with the NFU’s membership in national and local meetings.

The NFU is monitoring concerns raised in some local “hot-spots” where AD units are seeking crop feedstock, to better understand the impact on nearby land rents (as covered in a recent BBC Countryfile TV programme). However, on the basis of evidence the NFU does not believe this to be a problem at national scale.

The most recent estimate of the area of AD crop feedstocks like maize is 15,500 hectares – less than one-tenth of the total area of maize grown as dairy forage.

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