Conclusions on energy crops

2.46 This land will not come into energy-crop cultivation unless it provides an adequate return for farmers. The Energy Crops Scheme (Appendix A, paragraph A.6) intends to encourage farmers and end-users to work together and to ensure that supply and demand are both satisfied. It takes account of factors such as environmental and landscape issues as well as energy requirements. The scheme already recognises the biodiversity value of SRC to some extent. We recommend that the Energy Crops Scheme be enhanced to make energy crops more viable for farmers, and be tied to specific planting standards to protect landscape and other environmental features. This would help to reassure environmental groups and the public that SRC plantations cannot be established indiscriminately at the expense of the local environment. It would also provide a higher income stream for farmers.

2.47 Successful cultivation of energy crops would have two positive outcomes. A fuel would be produced for use in biomass energy generators in a way that is not a by-product of, and therefore limited by, a different type of operation such as forestry or municipal tree surgery; and a valuable cash crop with additional financial support would become available for farmers. Set against this are limitations imposed by processing and transporting the fuel. However, without guaranteed markets farmers are unable to receive Defra establishment grants for energy crops and they are understandably hesitant to dedicate large areas of their land to a crop that is relatively new to the UK.

2.48 While in general willow and poplar perform better in wetter areas and miscanthus yields are likely to be higher in warmer areas less prone to frost, energy crops can be grown in much of the UK. A detailed investigation needs to be carried out into the suitability of areas of the UK for biomass energy. We recommend that extensive detailed analysis of the suitability of land for energy crop production and a comparison of this to possible markets for the energy be undertaken on a regional basis. This should be carried out with central government support and guidance and should aim to incorporate environmental, agricultural and fuel poverty issues as well as economic considerations.

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