NFU president Peter Kendall has hit back at critics of the fledgling biofuel industry, branding them a strange and ill-assorted coalition.
Speaking at Cereals 2007 on Wednesday (13 June), Mr Kendall said only recently everyone had agreed that biofuels were crucial to cut transport carbon emissions.
Now there was an “almost daily cacophony of complaint” from the opposers. “The only thing that unites them seems to be their disdain for conventional agriculture,” Mr Kendall said.
There were two alternatives to biofuels – to stop driving and flying or to rely almost entirely on depleting fossil fuels, which would increase energy dependency on Russia and the Middle East and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. “You would think there would be universal welcome for the development.”
Climate change and energy security, two great issues of the age, put agriculture in a hugely better place, Mr Kendall said. “For the first time in half a century farming and land management can be seen as providing solutions, not problems.”
Addressing the key arguments put forward by opposers, Mr Kendall admitted biofuel would increase food prices.
“From a farmer’s perspective this is an attraction,” he admitted. However, farmers’ prices had been falling for over a century in real terms, so this amounted to an adjustment at most.
Wheat would be worth over £600/t if the price had increased with inflation. Meanwhile, household spending on food had dropped from over 22.3% 40 years ago to 8.9% today.
Mr Kendall denied biofuel would impoverish the developing world. “World cereal prices will go up. This will stimulate production in regions like southern Africa, which will be a motor for further development.”
Countering the claim that biofuels would be bad for the environment, he said UK farmers could produce enough biofuel to meet the government’s target of 5% inclusion in road transport fuel by 2010 without problem. And a certification scheme on all imported biofuels would protect rain forests, he added.
Mr Kendall claimed the commonly pedalled myth that the energy and carbon balance of biofuels was negative was “utterly false”. For example, the extra wheat yield from applied nitrogen returned six times the amount of energy used to produce, transport and spread the fertiliser.
While bioenergy had a cost, Mr Kendall said the advantages greatly outweighed it. “It would be a tragedy if bioenergy development, which has so much to offer, were to be stymied by myths and misconceptions.”
For more on Cereals read FWi’s special report page.