10 May 2002


For farmers growing

energy crops, a degree of

trust is involved

WILLIAM Easton, who farms 800ha (2000 acres) at Bunwell, Norwich, planted 11.6ha (29 acres) of short-rotation-coppice willow in May 2001 and another 14ha (35 acres) this spring, both under the Energy Crops Scheme. The first batch wont be ready for harvesting until November 2004, but when it is, he hopes the wood chips will be heading into the new biomass power station about to be built at Eye, Suffolk.

Biomass contracts were due to be ready this spring, but are not now due until summer 2002. So while Mr Easton admits that what he has planted so far involves trust rather than an actual contract, he is confident that even if the power station didnt come to fruition, the new Combined Power and Heat (CHP) generators being installed locally will provide a ready market for the woodchips.

The Energy Crops Scheme pays £1000/ha as a one-off grant towards establishment of the crop and the land also counts as set-aside. Five farmers in the area planted 65ha of short rotation willow in 2001, but he expects the acreage to be slightly smaller in 2002 because of the slow arrival of contracts. A grant has also been gained towards setting up a producer group and will be spent on setting up the company, office expenses and harvesting machinery. This has to be matched by equal funding from the growers and power station.