Industry leaders have voiced fears that the government is preparing to clamp down on farmers who use anaerobic digestion to create renewable energy.

Farm minister David Heath told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat party conference that anaerobic digestion has “enormous potential” to create energy from food waste.

But he cast doubt on government support for farmers who grow biofuel crops such as maize specifically for anaerobic digestion.

“I actually see the future of anaerobic digesters as the most effective way of turning waste into something valuable, which is a contribution to our energy supply,” said Mr Heath.

“I am less convinced – and I will be perfectly honest with you – by the arguments for actually growing crops to feed anaerobic digesters.”

Crops grown specifically for anaerobic digestion distorted the market for those crops and used up space in digesters that could be turning waste into energy, said Mr Heath.

“I will certainly look at the arguments on this,” he told the fringe meeting at the Old Ship Hotel, Brighton, on Monday (24 September).

“I am less convinced – and I will be perfectly honest with you – by the arguments for actually growing crops to feed anaerobic digesters.”
Farm minister David Heath

“If people are growing crops and transporting them distances to feed anaerobic digesters, I have to do the environmental arithmetic and make sure that makes sense – I am not sure it does.”

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson made similar comments earlier this month. Growing crops specifically for anaerobic digestion was “not a sensible way forward,” he suggested.

NFU president Peter Kendall said farmers needed confidence that the government wasn’t preparing to change the rules on anaerobic digestion.

“That’s the worry at the moment. There is a long lead-in time between building an AD plant and when you commission. We need government to stick to the rules, not change them.”

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