12 April 2002

Spain gains from spring barley bioethanol deal

WESSEX Grain has signed up 100ha (250 acres) of spring barley, grown on set-aside, to produce bioethanol. Larger areas of winter cereal contracts could follow this autumn, says managing director Malcolm Shepherd.

Due to the lack of UK processing facilities this years all-Optic spring crop will be shipped to Spain where a zero duty rate on biofuels makes processing viable. Growers will get feed barley price plus a £6/t premium, subject to quality.

"Basically we are looking for bold grain with a high starch content and low nitrogen." Straw should prove a valuable by-product, particularly for growers in the west, he adds.

"You can use or sell the straw provided the income from the straw is not greater than that from the grain."

In the east winter cereal contracts could prove attractive to continuous cereal growers, allowing them to avoid the enforced break of set-aside, he notes.

Grower Harry Harris, from Trent in Dorset has sown 15ha (37 acres) of Optic on set-aside land near Poyntington this spring.

He acknowledges that returns will be marginal, given the stone brash nature of the land, but believes it is the right thing to do environmentally, both from a local and global perspective.

"It is stone brash so skylarks will be able to land and nest in the spring barley and from a national point of view we are helping develop a green fuel industry. That is what we all need." &#42

UK pilot plant?

Mr Shepherd still hopes farmer-controlled Wessex Grain will win approval for a pilot bioethanol plant in the UK under the governments Green Fuels Challenge (Arable, Nov 16). However, civil servants seem to favour unproven high-science technology, which is unlikely to yield a viable biofuels industry within the foreseeable future, he says. "They are chasing rainbows."

British spring barley grown on set-aside is destined for processing into bioethanol in Spain from the coming harvest.