Farming must rise to the climate change challenge

Climate change has become a major driver for John Gilliland both on and off his farm. It was necessity that prompted his first involvement in mitigating the effects of climate change more than 20 years ago.

“I returned from university to the family farm near Londonderry and to a large farmhouse that was costing a fortune to heat,” says the former president of the Ulster Farmers Union. “So we decided to install a boiler fuelled initially on straw, but now by willow grown on the farm.”

Twenty-one years on and 160ha (400 acres) of the 200ha (500-acre) farm is planted with willow. Mr Gilliland has also established a company called Rural Generation that assists farmers growing biomass and supplies technology including boilers. The firm currently works with 30 farmers growing 1000ha (2500 acres) of willow and has more than 50 boilers using wood fuel.

His interest in bioenergy and his background in agricultural policy led to Mr Gilliland being appointed by DEFRA as the chairman of the Rural Climate Change Forum in 2005. It brings together a number of organisations such as the NFU, CLA, EA, the RSPB, the Forestry Commission and the Carbon Trust.

“The group provides advice to DEFRA on reducing the effects of climate change, including what research and development is needed,” says Mr Gilliland. “The forum also advises internationally on climate change issues.”

He strongly recommends the farming industry to take the government’s upcoming Climate Change Bill seriously. It is expected to go through Parliament in November. In preparation, an expert committee has been set up and will be led by the former head of the Confederation of British Industry Lord Adair Turner.

“Lord Turner will be reporting the committee’s first findings in December,” says Mr Gilliland. “He is likely to highlight that agriculture has a large role to play, but will also stress that farmers are in the rare and fortunate position of being able to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”

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