German farmers are embracing the push towards renewable sources of energy, both as consumers and suppliers, according to Eberhard Schultze, who runs 420ha (1038 acres) in Lower Saxony.

The real driver for change was the Renewable Energy Law (REL), he told the Oxford Farming Conference.

This aimed to increase the contribution of renewable raw materials for electricity production to 12% by 2010 and 20% by 2020.

“Our farmers take advantage of wind energy, bio-gas plants and solar cells on their barn roofs,” said Mr Schultze.

“They also lease out their land to wind turbine companies.”

According to Mr Schultze, there are over 16,500 wind turbines in German fields, though new developments were slowing due to resistance from environmental groups.

Farmers were therefore turning increasingly to biogas plants, producing electricity and heat for their own businesses and for local communities.

“Manure from all kinds of farm animals, maize and grass are being used to fill the plants.

At the moment 70,000ha of maize are grown for biogas plants.”

The REL offered a guaranteed electricity price for 20 years and Mr Schultze estimated farmers could make a 54,800 (37,000) profit from a 1.4m (960,000) investment.

Bioethanol was also a big growth market, stimulated by the fact the German government applies no duty at all to biofuels.

Sugar giant Sudzucker had built three new plants to convert wheat and rye into bioethanol and Cargill was building a similar facility for biodiesel from rape in Frankfurt.

“Today, farmers in Germany fill their tractors and combines more and more with rape oil instead of diesel,” said Mr Schultze.

With diesel at the filling station costing 1.1/litre (75p) compared with 52 cents/litre (35p) for rape oil, a farmer could save around 5000 (3400) on the cost of running a converted tractor for 600 hours.

“Farmers in Germany are looking hopefully into the future, because they might run their cars, tractors and ovens from their own fields,” he said.

“We do not care about a rising oil price.”