30 October 1998

Pioneer has no fears for now

ESSEX farmer Robert Goodwin, a UK energy cropping pioneer, finds it hard to speculate on the impact of Agenda 2000 on short rotation coppice.

"Now that food production is no longer as urgent as it once was, renewable energy will move up the political agenda." The ARBRE project (see opposite page) is an important step forward, he believes.

Interest in renewable non-fossil fuels is depressed by current low mineral oil price. But Mr Goodwin believes the cost only needs to increase to 12-13p/litre for short term coppice to compete.

He has 15ha (37 acres) of coppice willow and poplar on the 75ha (185 acre) Ashmans Farm at Kelvedon. Until last year it was one of five DTI Farm Wood for Fuel demonstration units.

In full production willow yields 12-15t/ha of dry matter a year with an energy value of up to 285Gjoules, equal to that from about 8t of coal.

The timber has only half the calorific value of coal but avoids depleting fossil fuel reserves, he notes.

Anticipating a bright future, Mr Goodwin developed a cuttings planter to allow him to both supply the raw material and plant energy crops.

However until demand from fuel farmers increases, outlets remain amenity markets, urban sound barriers, and sea defences for coastal erosion control.

"Originally we were hoping to supply an NFFO 3 power station at Eye in Suffolk, but thats now in abeyance which is frustrating. We must break this chicken and egg situation."