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01 October 2015

The National Farmers’ Union supports Straw as a Renewable Energy Source

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) assesses that 4 million tonnes of straw per year could be utilised for energy production. The NFU also sees the use of straw for energy as a positive step for arable farmers, including it having the benefit of creating a market for oilseed rape straw, for which there are few existing uses.

Of the 12.2 million tonnes annual total of straw in the UK, around 7.7 million tonnes is wheat straw and 1.4 million tonnes is from oilseed rape. Barley straw is more in demand than wheat straw from the livestock sector because it is a better feed for cattle and better bedding for pigs. The Community Energy Centre in Norwich would not use barley straw. To avoid conflict of interest, straw used for energy is mainly wheat, with a smaller proportion of oilseed rape straw also.

There are a number of straw power stations operational and planned in the UK; when these, including the proposed Generation Park Norwich Community Energy Centre, are operational they would take about 1.3 million tonnes, still well short of the total available for energy. Generation Park Norwich would require about 250,000 tonnes each year.

Submitted to the Energy and Climate Change Committee in April 2013, the NFU stated: We would like to see a commitment to a significant proportion of UK biomass power needs being met from domestically-produced wood, straw and energy cropsIt is only logical that the UK should source a proportion of national energy needs from a domestic resource over which we have a reasonable degree of economic and environmental controlThe NFU believes that DECC should set an ambition for the level of domestic virgin biomass feedstock supply, of the order of 10 million tonnes per annum by 2020. As the NFU has previously proposed to both DECC and Defra, this could comprise 4 Mt of straw.Read the full report here.

Straw supply is secured by Generation Park Norwich’s sister company, Pelco which is planning the construction of pelletising plants at a number of locations in England, including at Ely, where planning was approved in August 2015.

The National Farmers’ Union recognises that widening out the supply area – possible with the pelletisation of straw - is an effective way of ensuring security of supply for Norwich. Mike Hambly, National Chairman of NFU’s Combinable Crops Board supported the straw-pelleting initiative by Pelco and Generation Park Norwich, “This is another good opportunity in renewable energy providing a valuable additional margin for hard pressed arable farmers. Pelco are approaching the market in a sensible and mature way”.

Straw incorporation has limited potential for carbon sequestration. Studies show that greater (about seven-fold) environmental savings can be made by using straw for energy generation, leading to larger reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to coal burning, than by savings made through carbon sequestration from straw incorporation (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, 2012).

One of the objectives for Generation Park Norwich is to work with agricultural research centres and farmers to advance understanding of the best long-term utilisation regimes for straw, on farms, and more widely to strike a sustainable balance in the use of this resource for the protection of other valuable resources such as the soil and the atmosphere. This will help strike a more sustainable inter-connection between urban areas, and their demand for energy, and country.

NFU member statistics:-

  • The NFU has 55,000 members across England and Wales.
  • There are around 83,000 farm holdings which are greater than 50 acres of land. These belong to full time farmers. Many farmers have more than one holding.
  • The NFU estimates that more than 70 per cent of full time farmers are NFU members.

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