Mike Neaverson: Monster electricity bill for potato storage

Thundering into my inbox at this time of the month is a document so unbelievable that I open it with the level of trepidation deserving of a recent glyphosate invoice, or a letter from HMRC.

Because what was a few months ago just a relatively innocuous electricity bill is now a monster three times its historic size.

Like those in many other agricultural sectors, I am a big user of energy.

It’s an unavoidable fact that keeping potatoes at 2.5C for up to 10 months makes the meter whizz round at a speed that would make an Olympic figure skater dizzy. 

See also: Mike Neaverson – collaboration is the key to growing oilseed rape

About the author

Mike Neaverson
Farmlife opinion writer
Mike is a potato farmer and independent agronomist from Lincolnshire. A former student columnist for Farmers Weekly, he has had a year farming in New Zealand, a couple of stints in Antarctica and five years working in management for a big farming companies. He came back to South Lincs and set up his own company in 2017 and has started his  potato operation from scratch, operating entirely on rented cropping licence land. His father is a 200ha tenant arable farmer and he is involved practically in that business, too.
Read more articles by Mike Neaverson

Modern specification

I built my stores to a decent modern specification just a couple of years ago. But a near-tripling of our electricity rates means that, even on my modest scale, I now need to budget for an annual bill deep into five figures. 

Consecutive governments have failed to tackle the problem head-on, denying investment in both nuclear and gas fracking.

So I’m not the only one fearing that electricity prices will remain higher than a young farmer’s collar for years to come. 

Yet, amazingly, the economics of investing in on-farm renewables are still sketchy. 

Much of my usage is in the dark days of winter when solar is about as much use as a Conservative trade deal. 

Wind fits my demand profile better, but scale is important, and you could buy a nice house for the cost of a genuinely economical turbine in this area. 

Too late to benefit

Many farmers invested during the heady days of the government’s Feed-in-Tariffs subsidy scheme. Young businesses such as mine arrived too late to the party to benefit.

I would argue that as we switch to electricity as a power source across our businesses, a really useful addition to future grant schemes such as the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund would be to help partially fund farm-scale renewables generation. 

Until then, there’s little choice but to swallow these energy costs or pass them on as best I can. 

At least HMRC won’t need to worry about writing to me much this year.