29 December 1995

Arable energy coppice needs R&D before returns improve

FEARS that Arable Energy Coppice tree roots will disrupt and/or damage existing drainage systems appear unfounded, according to a new ADAS report* commissioned by the MAFF Alternative Crops Unit.

The 170-page report, which makes no attempt to assess the economics of AEC production, is said to be the first comprehensive review of the crop in the UK, examining its potential on both agricultural and set-aside land.

ADAS says too little information on AEC is currently available to farmers and more work needs doing on its commercial application.

To date there is only about 200ha (500 acres) of "actively managed short rotation coppice" in the country, it notes.

However, "5000-7000ha" are due to be planted in the next two to three years to supply three power stations awarded recent Non-Fossil Fuels Obligation contracts. Two more NFFO rounds in 1996 and 1998 could encourage further plantings.

Increasing output is a key target. "As expertise improves, present yields of 6-12 oven-dry t/ha should progressively move towards 15-20 oven-dry t/ha, improving returns from the crop," claims Martin Buckland, ADAS principal consultant.

The report identifies 22 areas for further research and development – some, such as the need to evaluate clones to maximise production potential, "urgent" – others longer term.

* Arable Energy Coppice costs £7.50 from Martin Buckland, ADAS HQ. (01865-845131). &#42