5 April 1996

Energy crop grants are set too low

CONCERNS over the low level of start-up funding for farmers growing biomass crops and the future of the non fossil fuel obligation (NFFO) system post 2000 were raised by British Biogen this week.

Responding to the publication of MAFFs national biomass energy strategy, Peter Billings, British Biogen chief executive, said that while he was pleased with MAFFs commitment to the long-term future of the biomass industry, there were areas which needed change.

Mr Billings said current start-up grants for energy crops, available under the woodland grant scheme, were insufficient, adding that the hectarage capping mechanism was also a disincentive.

Changes to CAP rules, enabling set-aside land to be used for the production of non-food crops, meant it was important to provide incentives to the agricultural community.

While welcoming much of MAFFs plans, Mr Billings also expressed concern about the continuation of NFFO.

Government has said the non fossil fuel scheme was designed to get output capacity from biomass to 1500mW by 2000.

"At present, there are no other government proposals to go beyond that, although we can expect some positive reactions from the liberalisation of the electricity market in 1998," he said.

The five-year strategy looks at energy crops, such as short rotation coppice, miscanthus and oilseed rape, waste plant products from agriculture, such as straw and forestry and animal waste, including poultry litter and slurry.

The report claims that by 2025, up to 10% cent of UK electricity demand could be met from energy crops, although it recognises that dry tonne yields will have to be substantially increased from current levels.

Lower levels of electricity are likely to be obtained from other agricultural and forestry wastes.

rates (2-3%) and wet livestock wastes (1-2%).

Biomass currently provides about 14% of the worlds energy, and the report highlights export market possibilities in nations were biomass can be competitive with fossil fuels, particularly in the field of rural electrification in developing countries.