Despite recent falls, fuel costs still remain high. Improving efficiency or even investing in on-farm renewable energy generation may not only save money but also possibly attract grant funding. Mick Roberts reports

Although agriculture consumes huge amounts of fuel, the industry also has great potential to generate renewable energy from numerous sustainable sources.

The Farm Energy Event, at Newark Showground on 25 November, is a new showcase that aims to focus on ways to save energy, equipment to reduce its use as well as provide advice about on-farm generation. Seminars during the day will cover a wide range of subjects from looking at renewable energy opportunities and how to drive tractors more efficiently through to how to save water and explaining how dairy farmers can cut energy costs.

In these seminars Michael Stubbs, Rural Development Programme manager for East Midlands Development Agency (emda), will be explaining how farmers and other land-based industries can benefit from the recently introduced Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE).

“The RDPE is backed by nearly £4bn of investment. Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), such as EMDA, have nearly £600m of this to help fund a range of projects that make better use of resources such as improving energy efficiency, reducing water consumption and minimising waste. This also covers wind and solar power generation, as well as digesters and biomass systems,” he explains.

Any land-based business (farming, forestry and horticulture) can apply for funding. There is also no restriction on the number of individuals who can submit an application indeed group and collaborative ventures are being encouraged.

“The grants available in the East Midlands range from £25,000 to a ‘normal’ maximum of up to £250,000. However, if a group of individuals or businesses work together it is possible to go beyond that upper limit, because co-operation means the investment has a wider impact.”

Applications are handled in a two-stage process, starting with an ‘expression of interest’ to confirmed eligibility. “This is a straightforward way to allow us to quickly assess whether the project proposal is eligible for support without involving a lot of paperwork. The second stage, after the expression of interest has been endorsed, involves submitting the formal application,” adds Mr Stubbs, who as well as working for EMDA, also runs his own contract combining business.

RDPE money is also aimed at stimulating land-based businesses to become more competitive and sustainable. A wide range of activities are eligible in the East Midlands including:

  • Renewable energy
  • Adding value to agricultural and forestry products
  • Co-operative ventures to develop new products, processes or technologies
  • Water resource management
  • Vocational training and skills

In one of the first cases, as part of a larger project, a dairy has received backing for solar panel heating for a new ice-cream parlour and tea room, while another project is receiving £140,000 to help build a £826,000 Centre of Renewable Energy (CORE) at East Drayton in Nottinghamshire.

On a larger scale is an RDPE investment of £4.5 million to Woodfuels East, via the East of England Development Agency, for a woodfuel accelerator project. This aims to source quality woodchip from 15,000ha of woodland and cut up to 90,000t of CO2 emissions by 2013.

The Environment Agency (EA), which is also co-sponsoring the Farm Energy Event, says it’s these kind of changes that are not only reducing businesses’ fuel bills, but also helping them “profit from a good environment”.

EA staff will be on hand to provide advice on how to best manage resources such as soil, nutrients, water and energy. They will also be providing a new brochure highlighting tips and case study examples from its new 100-page “Best Farming Practices” guide.

Contacts

Farm Energy Event

  • Tuesday 25 November 2008
  • Newark Showground
  • Tickets: £10.00 on the day.
  • NRoSO Points: 2
  • Save 50% by pre-registering for tickets on the website: www.farm-smart.co.uk or by calling 0845 4900 142