20 October 1995

Coppicing contract offers set to flow

By Alan Barker

CONTRACTS to grow 2000ha (4500 acres) of coppice willow will be going out to Yorkshire farmers in the next few weeks.

Keith Pitcher, Yorkshire environmental development manager, announced the move at the annual conference of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Groups northern region at Bishop Burton farm college on Wednesday.

Under the terms of the contract, which will first be discussed with the NFU, farmers will be offered an index-linked payment of £20 a dry tonne of coppice willow from a predicted harvest of 12 dry tonnes a year.

This return, from some of the worst land on the farm, will be swollen by set-aside payments and will be free of all input costs.

Yorkshire Environmental, the waste management and environmental arm of Yorkshire Water, plans to build a 10mW wood chip fuelled generating plant at Eggborough. It wants farmers within a 40-mile radius of the plant to commit 2000ha (4500 acres) of land to coppice willow production over the next three years.

Engineering design for the generating plant has been finalised and a planning application to Selby District Council will be submitted in the near future.

Mr Pitcher told the conference that farmers had shown considerable interest in the project, but they were unwilling to commit themselves until planning permission had been granted and a firm contract was available. But the initial response had provided several hundred hectares.

First plantings would take place next spring, with farmers input limited to the production of a weed-free seed-bed. Plantings, fertiliser application, using digested sewage sludge and harvesting would be carried out by Yorkshire Environmental. Further plantings in 1997 and 1998 would give a three-year harvesting cycle.

Mr Pitcher said the aim was to fuel the generator on 20% forestry material and 80% coppice. But with the plant due to become operational in 1998, greater reliance would need to be placed on forestry material for the first two years.

Set-aside was an added encouragement and bonus for uptake of the scheme, but Mr Pitcher believed the contracts terms would prove attractive irrespective of the policys future.

AYorks coppice willow contract offers payments of £20 a dry tonne.