SCIENTISTS HAVE warned the Welsh Assembly that it will not achieve renewable energy targets unless farmers are offered higher biomass production grants.

Financial incentives to encourage the planting of short-rotation willow and Miscanthus needed to be brought in line with incentives in England, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research at Aberystwyth claimed.

 The growing of biomass crops, it insisted, was being inhibited by the fact that 400/ha less support was available on willow, and no kick-start grants were paid on Miscanthus, compared with 920/ha in England.

“It is clear that better grants are essential to start up short-rotation coppicing and the growing of energy grasses like Miscanthus,” warned John Valentine, who heads the EU-funded Willow for Wales demonstration project.

The IGER-managed initiative involves planting a total of 40ha of willow coppice on five farms to assess growing costs, optimum crop management and likely yield.

Dr Valentine forecast that over time economies of scale would bring down the costs of establishment and machinery, but in the meantime lower grants than in England were a big barrier to the uptake of energy crops west of Offa”s Dyke.

He added that if continuity of supply could be guaranteed, there was a big potential market for biomass from forestry and energy crops. Planting was even more attractive now that the EU had agreed that growing them would not jeopardise single farm payments and cross-compliance.

Aberthaw Power Station alone had a potential biomass requirement of 70,000 oven-dry tonnes a year by 2011 to supply electricity to every home in the Vale of Glamorgan. Meeting this demand would require 7000ha of crops.