5 July 2002

Industrial crops becoming reality

New hope for industrial crops

was the main arable theme

at the Royal Show this

week. Charles Abel reports

INDUSTRIAL crops are finally coming to fruition as real market opportunities.

But farmers must get far more involved with the companies looking to source such materials.

"There is everything from big bulk markets to very specific niche production available, all gathering momentum," says long-time novel crops backer Melvyn Askew of CSL York. "These are real products, not toys. But farmers have got to be active and get involved in partnerships."

Main driver behind the renaissance is the desire of retailers to prove their green credentials, combined with the governments EU obligations to meet environmental targets, particularly on greenhouse gas emissions.

At the event farm minister, Margaret Beckett, signalled the governments continuing interest in the sector (see News). "These opportunities are not only good for agriculture but good for the environment too," she stressed.

New industrial uses on display at the Royal Show included Goodyears GT3 BioTRED tyres containing 2% starch and fine-quality textiles produced from fibres extracted from the common stinging nettle.

"Two percent starch inclusion in a tyre may not sound like much, but with a market of 50m tyres/year it could be significant," says Mr Askew. Goodyear is making great play of the green image of using a renewable resource.

Up to 3m tonnes of straw could also be required for bioethanol production within five years, he adds. "EC requirements for biorenewables mean these things are going to happen."

To help push the sector forward newly launched ADAS Renewables aims to help bridge the gap between farmers and industrial users. "We felt we needed to practice what we preach, which is why we are getting involved at a practical level," says Mike Bullard.

The main worry is that in many cases coppice and miscanthus planting are being promoted on the promise of something that may not materialise, he notes.

This summer ADAS is offering 500ha of commercial Miscanthus planting backed by firm contracts to supply the Ely straw-fired power station. The £2500/ha establishment cost is paid by the buyer in return for the first five years of straw. Commercial rates of £26/t of dry straw apply thereafter.

ADAS arranges establishment using its prototype planter and own produced rhizomes. "We hope establishment costs will drop to nearer £1500/ha once production is scaled up." &#42

No messing about… Industrial uses are becoming a reality for a host of arable crops, says Melvyn Askew of CSL. But growers need to work more closely with users.

Biodiesel standards

Sub-standard biodiesel has sent retail sales of the green fuel tumbling 20% in Germany, with several manufacturers going out of business, says Steve Moody of Rix Fuels. "Manufacturers are having difficulty meeting the German standard and people are losing confidence in the fuel as they run into engine problems." That is why Rix is awaiting the arrival of the higher pan-European EN 14214 standard next year before marketing its 5% biodiesel mix through retail outlets in Scotland, Yorks and the East Midlands. In the meantime it will offer biodiesel produced to the existing UK EN590 standard to local authority users once the 20p/litre duty cut comes into effect on Jul 17. It is having up to 50,000t of biodisel produced by BIP in Oldbury near Birmingham using vegetable oil recovered from the food manufacturing industry.

GM-free fibre demand

Could textiles be the next market to face problems with genetically modified crops? Retailers keen to keep consumers informed are likely to start badging the inclusion of GM cotton in clothing, which could prompt demand for GM-free textiles, suggests Ray Haywood of De Montfort University. A new approach to fibre flax production being developed by the TEXFLAX project could put UK growers in pole position to benefit from such a trend. Using glyphosate to kill crops so they can rett while standing in the field ensures better quality and consistency, delivering a fibre quality close to Belgian flax worth £1.60/kg, compared with the 30-40p/kg current value of flax fibre. The technique is being evaluated in two 50ha crops this summer. "There is going to be a lot of money made from fibre crops. But consistency and reliability of production is needed to open up these markets," he says.

Bridging the divide between energy crop growers and users – Mike Bullard of ADAS Renewables.

Biodiesel from waste veg oil is Rix Fuels offer. But until biodiesel standards are agreed across Europe consumer disappointment remains a risk, as in Germany, say Steve Moody (left) and Peter Turner.