21 March 1997

…but incentives needed

COPPICE willow needs pump-priming if it is to become a viable alternative crop, to help farmers weather tumbling commodity prices.

That is the view of Londonderry farmer John Gilliland who is developing on-farm coppice energy production in Northern Ireland.

"Incentives have been used successfully in Sweden to create economies of scale, which have brought significant reductions in establishment cost," he says.

In 1985 a £2000/ha planting incentive was used to encourage 50ha of initial planting. In 1991 a £1000/ha scheme was used to achieve 1000ha of plantings.

By 1996 just £560/ha of support was needed to achieve total plantings of 15,000ha. Establishment costs have tumbled to £700/ha, explains Mr Gilliland.

"At the moment our establishment costs would be £1850/ha. We need some support to get the industry up and running to get these costs cut."

Mr Gilliland is hopeful that MAFF will restructure the Woodland Grant Schemes coppice support. Currently £1.1m is earmarked, but only a small part claimed. A scheme providing annual payments until coppice produces income in year four is being considered, he says. However, an EUscheme would be better, he adds.