14 June 1996

Short rotation coppice not a get-rich-quick fix

SET-ASIDE should not be used to promote alternative crops. Instead, decisions on new crops should be based on their true commercial potential.

So said NFU deputy president, Ben Gill at a MAFF-organised short rotation coppice workshop in Harrogate last week. "We are moving into an arena where farming will become more diversified. It is going to be horses for courses."

SRC offers tremendous potential as a profitable and sustainable alternative crop, he said. But it is not a get-rich-quick fix. It needs judging in the long term, and not just on short-term considerations such as set-aside.

Questions still need answering. What is going to happen to agricultural markets over the next 10-15 years? What is going to happen to set-aside? What is going to happen to market support?

But the future is unclear in other sectors, making the advantages of a balanced portfolio clear, he said. SRC technology has moved on apace, with costs coming down and yields and gross margins increasing.

&#8226 Francis Marlow, head of Alternative Crops with MAFF, said coppice willow planted on set-aside land would have the £340/ha (£138/acre) set-aside payment guaranteed for the next five years. That may go up, but could not come down.

Set-aside would continue at 18% each year, unless a lower rate was set according to conditions in the cereals market, he noted. &#42