How AD can drive farm productivity and diversification – thinkpiece from Dr Jonathan Scurlock
Dr Jonathan Scurlock, Chief Adviser on Renewable Energy and Climate Change at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), sets out the role of AD in supporting UK farmers post Brexit ahead of UK AD & World Biogas Expo 2018, the world’s largest tradeshow dedicated solely to AD and biogas.
As a degree of confidence about the future prospects for anaerobic digestion (AD) returns to the market, with more than 30 new AD plants likely to be built in the UK this year under the reformed Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, the importance of owning, hosting or supplying an AD plant as a source of diversification of income is becoming more obvious to the agricultural sector.
The NFU has already set out its stall in the current protracted period of negotiation with Government over the details of a new domestic agricultural policy. We have proposed three ‘cornerstones’ that will be essential to ensure that UK farming remains profitable, productive and competitive into the mid-2020s:
- improving productivity
- enhancing the environment
- managing volatility in food commodity prices
Food production remains of paramount importance to our members, including access to markets through terms of trade, and access to the labour force we need. But farmers also produce renewable raw materials for the growing bio-economy, as well as clean energy including wind, biomass and solar power, with around 10 per cent of the nation’s electricity now generated from agricultural land. AD is of particular benefit to farming, both as a source of home-grown energy generation and as a tool for resource efficiency – reducing input costs, improving nutrient and soil management, and managing emissions of greenhouse gases as well as ammonia.
Farmers need Government policy measures that recognise the multiple environmental benefits or ‘public goods’ which are delivered by AD. We would welcome specific incentives to encourage more farmers to use digestate as a part of their nutrient and soil management plans. There is also an urgent need now to replace the fossil-fuel natural gas in our national network. AD/biomethane plants represent the most readily available technology to produce large quantities of low-carbon gas for the network, as well as for transport applications.
The forthcoming challenge of achieving net-zero emissions for the UK economy should present even more diverse possible production opportunities for agriculture. As a nation, we will need greenhouse gas removal measures, including linking bioenergy to carbon capture, enhancing carbon storage in soils and trees, and greater use of bio-based products and materials. This may involve more use of land area to provide climate change services to the economy, while still producing food for the nation – but in the face of Brexit and changing agricultural policy, many farmers need to diversify in order to have profitable and productive businesses.
Dr Jonathan Scurlock will be speaking at UK AD & World Biogas Expo 2018 – you can find out more and register your free place here.