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Stackyard News Nov 07

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    Welsh Farmers Fuelling the Future

Go back to your farms and prepare to fuel and feed the nation was the message delivered to the Future Farmers of Wales Conference, held at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells.

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The theme was Fuelling Our Future and the line up of radical, entrepreneurial, speakers gave an upbeat and stimulating slant on the industry’s prospects as the Government underwrites its commitment to renewable energy.

Delegates daunted by a summer of devastating blows were told that Government incentives on fuel and electricity meant new opportunities were continually unfolding. They were urged to trawl the internet for new ideas to produce fuel. They shouldn’t discount anything. The future belonged to them and the Government is increasingly encouraging renewable energy production.

"Farming in the next ten to twenty years is the thing to be in" urged Rural Business Planning and Grant Aid Consultant, John Cook, who has been closely involved with on farm anaerobic digestion projects.

"The opportunities are great. Don’t discount anything. Energy and food production is the thing to be in. There are great opportunities and demand is rocketing. Following the introduction of capital grant aid and doubling of the Renewable Obligation Certificates for electricity from anaerobic digestion plants, there is no doubt that this is a profitable diversification opportunity".

Mr Cook shared his experience and ideas on how anaerobic digestion of farm and food wastes could produce biogas for generating electricity and heat. The process could help to cut costs on the farm and help to make a profit.

He explained that the process involved digesting waste in an oxygen free environment to produce biogas. It had the added advantage of harnessing methane, a green house gas twenty one times more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

Slurry was an excellent base and could be combined with a range of waste products, from grass clippings to abattoir fats, to produce carbon neutral biogas, which was then capable of generating electricity and heat. The advantages of on farm biogas production included the fact that carbon emissions were reduced, the energy supply was decentralised, odours reduced and less mineral oil used. It was also a useful diversification and served to secure energy supplies and strengthen the rural infrastructure.

Mr Cook stressed that the technique offered big opportunities. There were about four thousand anaerobic digesters on German farms, while the UK had only about twenty. The German Government

had shown an early commitment to renewable energy and put in a very good price for electricity produced on farm and provided good conditions for the supplying farmers.

The returns on offer in the UK were ‘amazing’ he said. And he cited the example of a unit in Dorset which had cost approximately £750,000 to set up. It had an operating margin of £142,990 which translated into a 20 % return on capital which would take five years to pay back.

The scene was set by Graham Redman, research economist with Andersons. He explained that the UK commitment to Kyoto and other climate change agreements meant that a rising percentage of electricity and road fuel had to come from renewables

It meant that there were incentives in the form of payments and penalties to persuade companies to use a given percentage renewable energy. Renewables which can be produced on farm include biofuels (bioethanol and biodiesel), anaerobic digestion, biomass, wind turbines, and hydro electric power.

The Government’s Renewables Obligation encourages electricity providers to source some electricity from renewable sources. They will be obliged to produce or source 7% of total energy provision this year from a renewable source, rising to 10% by 2010.

Mr Redman explained that they will receive certificates (called ROCs) for electricity generated from renewable sources up to this annual target. They will be penalised for any shortfall of certificates. Providers who prefer can, instead of producing their own renewable source, contract out that supply source or buy it in from the market place.

"Farmers will be able to earn these certificates which they can then sell to mainstream electricity providers", he explained. "These renewable energy certificates are tradable and this can provide a profitable diversification for farmers. Road fuels operate on a similar system of certification and there are also opportunities there".

Corwen farmer, Llyr Jones, told the conference that he had gone into biofuel production in response to climate change and the realisation that his beef and sheep enterprise was increasingly reliant on the Single Farm Payment. Fuel was also a factor, with diesel costing £1.10 a litre and likely to become even more expensive.

"China and other countries are becoming wealthier and want more energy", he added. "Then the Government is trying to get us to be as green as possible.

"I also wanted to create jobs and commercial opportunities for our rural communities. I’m hoping to create five full time jobs".

Llyr will be producing biofuel from oil seed rape, processed on farm. He first saw it in practice in France ten years ago, but felt then that fuel was cheap and paid little attention. A visit to Ireland five years ago focussed his mind.

Today he has installed three German presses in a converted hay barn and in a ‘very simple system’ will produce 364 litres of oil from a tonne of seed. The process will also soon yield approximatly 666 kilograms of cake, which can be fed to cattle.

The oil will be used on farm and sold to hauliers and others who save enough money on conventional fuel to pay the £3,000 cost of a conversion kit for the engine in twelve months. An alternative is to mix the oil with 50% conventional oil and then use it without a conversion kit.

Llyr Jones told the conference that there were many more opportunities. He was looking at a means of combining the meal byproduct with straw to make wood pellets. He was also hoping to process oil for other farmers.

Future Farmers of Wales Chairman Geraint Hughes said delegates were going from the conference buzzing with ‘a new mood of optimism’. It was especially reassuring that the speakers were speaking with the experience of working at the coalface of these innovative techniques.

link Paying Farmers to Protect the Environment?
link Scottish Farmers Co-ops to Help Tackle Climate Change
link Fuelling Our Future Farmers of Wales
link Crop Market Update

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