Friday, 21 August 2009

Blow to greener fuel hopes as production costs outstrip profit

Published Date: 21 August 2009
By Andrew Arbuckle
THE prospect of growing crops for biofuels has taken a knock with one pioneering farmer saying the sums do not add up.
Bruce Hamilton, of Blairnathort, Kinross, has just received the returns for his willow crop, which he has been growing for four years on eight hectares of land adjacent to the M90."It is not even close to break even," he stated, adding that his costs over the four years totalled £2,500 per hectare while the income for the same period fell just short of £2,000.In fact, the only good news for Hamilton was the prediction of difficulties in bringing the land back into agricultural production after growing a crop of willow have proven to be wide of the mark."We used a mulcher to chip the stumps down to ground level and we rotavated the remains in prior to sowing grass seed."Hamilton received a government grant to cover the cost of planting the willow in 2005. Despite the crop looking well right from the start, the end yield at 18 tonnes per hectare was only half the tonnage predicted by experts. "That is the difficult bit to understand as I do not think the experts' prediction of willow yielding ten tonnes per hectare per year is possible."Short-rotation coppicing first came into the public arena in the 1990s when interest in renewable fuel sources gathered pace. At that time, 15,000 hectares were planted in Sweden. The acreage of willow in Scotland is well behind that, with only an estimated 225 hectares planted. At one point, it was estimated that biomass could contribute up to 10 per cent of Scottish renewable energy targets and in order to meet that level some 30,000 hectares of willow would have required to have been planted.