Rising energy prices and growing government support have encouraged
farmers to look closely at alternative non food and biomass crops
in recent years. However, rising prices for grain, oilseeds and
other commodities, supported in part by biofuel demand, make a
shift away from conventional enterprises unattractive at present.
This is one of the findings contained in the report of a SEERAD-funded
study carried out by SAC. The report, “Commercial viability
of alternative non food crops and biomass on Scottish Farms” is
published on the SAC website (see link on this page).
The objective of the study was to make an independent economic
and agronomic assessment of the main alternative non food crops
currently available in Scotland to help farmers with their cropping
Report author Julian Bell said;
“If plantings of willow Short Rotation Coppice for biomass
are to increase significantly then the economics of the crop need
to improve. It is not enough for willow to match the returns from
arable cropping, it must offer potentially higher returns to outweigh
the loss of marketing and cropping flexibility. There is also uncertainty
over the yields that growers will be able to achieve in practice.“
The development of new wood fired power stations in Scotland has
created demand for the production of willow Short Rotation Coppice
(SRC) and plantings have started to rise, albeit from a low level.
Current woodchip contracts offer price security at index linked
prices for the next 10 years and this may suit farm businesses
seeking long term price security. However to gain wider appeal
amongst farmers higher woodchip prices and also more flexible and
transparent pricing arrangements linked to the energy or grain
markets may be needed.
There may also be opportunities for farmers to boost returns from
growing willow SRC by supplying a local heat market directly. Additional
revenues may also be obtained through disposal fees for bio-solids
and waste water.
The study also investigated the viability of growing conventional
rapeseed and wheat for industrial markets along with growing fibre
and speciality oilseed crops.
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