1 November 1996

Convincing case for coppice willow

YORKSHIRE farmers are being urged to translate expressed interest in growing coppice willow on set-aside land into a firm commitment to plant.

Over the past year progress has been made with Project ARBRE (Arable Biomass Renewable Energy) which envisages the construction of a £10m wood fuel electricity generating plant at Eggborough, near Selby.

Selby District planners have approved the construction of the plant, subject to final confirmation from the Department of the Environment. That is now awaited.

With a four-year gap between planting, and first coppice harvest the next important stage in the development of the project is to ensure 700ha (1729 acres) are planted in each of the next three years.

ARBRE Energy recently sent out letters to 210 farmers who had expressed general interest in coppice. A total of 17 positive responses to the letter were received within a few days, says a spokesman.

Would-be growers are also being invited to see the growth progress of willows planted this spring on Michael Newlands Youlton Lodge farm at Tollerton, near York. Machinery will be in action cutting back the first year growth of up to 2.5mm (8ft) to promote coppice growth on Nov 7/8.

With a yield estimate of 12t/ha of dry matter a year, worth an inflation proofed £20/t to the grower, it is envisaged that 2000ha (4942 acres) of coppice, once in full production, will provide 80% of the power source of the new generating plant. The balance will be made up of forestry waste.

With the 10MW generating plant likely to be up and running before the first major coppice harvest at the end of the year 2000 early reliance will be placed on forestry thinnings to meet the fuel needs of the wood burning power station.n

Yorks growers are wary of coppice contracts to date. But planning permission for the ARBRE power plant and proof of the crops potential on Michael Newlands Youlton Lodge Farm at Tollerton near York could help change opinions, say project backers.