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.
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
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
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
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.
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