A BRITISH farmer who planted the world‘s largest single block of willow short rotation coppice (SRC) and found himself with no market is confident energy crops offer a viable option post subsidy reform.

John Strawson told delegates at the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust winter conference (Nov 12) that despite the setback he is planning to plant more next year after studying the sector carefully.

He planted 172ha (425 acres) of the crop on his family‘s farm at East Drayton near Lincoln, but suffered a setback last year when the Arable Biomass Renewable Energy project in north Yorkshire failed and left him with no market.

Mr Strawson believes it still makes financial sense for farmers to grow crops for energy and not food.

“The market is still in its infancy but is now developing. Marketing contracts are on offer to supply power stations such as Drax and Cottam.

“CAP reform and decoupled payments in agriculture have opened the door for farmers to embrace the market and energy crops offer a viable option.‘‘

As a Nuffield Scholar, Mr Strawson studied the industry in Northern Europe and North America.

The study proved energy crops are an emerging and viable market in the UK and will become more secure over time, he said.

He believes farmers should consider planting SRC on blocks of land to reduce whole farm fixed costs and not limit it to set aside areas.

As a straight gross margin comparison with conventional cropping, SRC made financial sense. But when used as a tool to reduce overhead costs, the crop is used to its best effect, he said.

“Budgets suggest a net farm income, including rent and the single farm payment, of nearly £150 for SRC and £40 for fallow compared to little above break even for wheat,‘‘ added Mr Strawson.

More detailed information can be found in FWi‘s new non-food crops focus, FARMERS WEEKLY (Nov 12) and Crops (Nov 13).