Potential production

2.39 England has about 2.5 million hectares (Mha) of grades 1 and 2 agricultural land, 6 Mha of grade 3 land and 3 Mha of grades 4 and 5 land. Food production is likely to continue on the best grade 1, 2 and 3 land but a significant amount of land in grades 3, 4, and 5 will be available and suitable for energy crops. Environmental impact assessments may rule out some areas of set-aside and grade 5 land for energy crop production on environmental grounds, or it may just be unsuitable (steep slopes or very poor quality soil for example). Therefore it is more likely that grades 3 and 4 land will be used for willow production. Energy crop production could be started as a use for set-aside land but it is likely that eventually other arable land would need to be switched to energy crop production.

2.40 There are currently 1,795 hectares of land under cultivation of commercial willow SRC and miscanthus in the UK34; at least 1,500 hectares of this is willow35. The land dedicated to energy crops totals less than 0.01% of the total arable land in the UK36. The Defra NonFood Crops Strategy states that domestically grown crops should meet a significant part of the demand for energy and raw materials in the UK37. The National Farmers' Union suggests that up to 20% of crops grown in the UK could be made available for non-food uses (i.e. for fuels or industrial materials), by 202038; hence, there is scope for a significant expansion of energy crop production in the UK. Planning crops in order to achieve the maximum environmental benefits and yields in areas close to demand is the challenge to be met by the farmers and energy generating companies

2.41 The implications for UK land availability can be considered in four stages:

• Immediate future - energy crops utilise a relatively small proportion of set-aside land.

2.42 For the immediate future, the indications from power plants in the planning stages are that farmers can be attracted to allocate sufficient land to growing energy crops by the existing set-aside and planting grants39,40 with a proportion of growers not using set-aside land.

• Short-term - area required for energy crops increases up to the amount of set-aside land.

2.43 The average set-aside land over the four years from 1999-2002 was 640,000 ha. It is unlikely that all of this will be suitable or available for energy crops, for a variety of reasons including farmers' preferences for other industrial crops, water availability, commercial return and land productivity. Therefore, it is likely that a change in grant regime will be required to ensure that land equal in area to the total area of land that would otherwise be set-aside is used for non-food crops, with an appropriate proportion being energy crops. This is likely to result in much set-aside land being returned to its former uses, with some land remaining fallow, whilst other land is converted from other crop production to energy and industrial crops. The new CAP single payment scheme is understood to make energy crops more commercially viable41 for farmers but additional drivers will be needed from government to encourage wider-scale take-up of energy crop production.

• Medium-term - area required for energy crops increases beyond the amount of land that is currently set-aside.

2.44 As a viable fraction of set-aside is used for energy crops, growth in energy crops will move onto other grades of land. The issues then become effective agricultural and forestry policy and the relative profitability of different land uses. Agricultural policy issues that arise include import and export balances of food crops and the effect of a possible move to less intensive and lower output farming methods. Within the UK there will be many geographical variations, for example the availability of water for SRC, so the cover of these new crops will not be evenly spread throughout the country. Further evidence42 suggests that, in the short to medium term, Scotland will have sufficient biomass from forestry arisings and co-products to meet its needs and will not need to grow dedicated energy crops.

• Long-term - area of land increases to be a significant proportion of total available agricultural land.

2.45 In the long-term, in addition to the economic and policy issues above, the environmental impacts would become more significant. Siting of energy crop production would be constrained by both proximity to installations using the biomass and the suitability of the land. To achieve the levels of biomass energy production suggested by some sources43 would require at least 20% of the total available arable land area, and would be likely to result in many large areas having much more than 20% of land area dedicated to energy crops.

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