30 October 1998

Willow is powering ahead in NIreland

EUROPES first on-farm willow-fired combined heat and power plant has run for a year, and is on course for full output in 2000.

The net margin forecast from the coppice, gasification and power system at £446/ha (£180/acre) looks set to exceed all other enterprises on the 320ha (800 acre) farm, says farmer John Gilliland of Brook Hall, Londonderry, NIreland.

"The biggest difficulty has been weed control, especially on organic soils where residuals didnt work. New growers need specialist advice to ensure 80-90% establishment."

A contractor is used for planting and weed control for the first 18 months. "We may pay a bit more, but we get a 90% establishment guarantee."

Preparation starts with autumn rabbit fencing and spraying weeds with glyphosate. On organic soils a stale spring seed-bed is prepared and sprayed off before planting in early May. Pre-emergence residual Stomp (pendimethalin) is used on non-organic soils.

Soil disturbance at planting is minimised to avoid stimulating weeds and inter-row sprays are used where needed.

At 15,000 cuttings/ha (6000/acre) establishment costs £1850/ha (£755/acre), but annual harvest, fertiliser and herbicides costs thereafter are about £200/ha (£80/acre), he estimates.

Three areas totalling 45ha (111 acres) should yield 12t/ha (4.9t/acre) of dried chips a year.

Currently the plant is running at 40-50% capacity on bought in timber, with full operation planned for 2000 using all willow.

Time demands on subsequent set-ups should be less, he suggests. "Growers following in our footsteps should find it easier." Brook Farm has attracted worldwide interest. "The critical point is we are up and running. Nothing convinces me I made the wrong decision."