- Post Brexit there is the opportunity to restructure UK farming support to encourage sustainable growth of the UK biomass sector
- Increased planting of bioenergy crops presents an opportunity to support existing employment and create new opportunities for the UK’s farming and forestry sectors
- When sited considerately, planting second generation crops can deliver genuine emissions reductions, improve soil carbon sequestration and farm-scale biodiversity
A new report published today by the ETI supports the belief that as the UK exits the European Union there is an opportunity for the country to restructure farming support to increase soil carbon sequestration and farm-scale biodiversity, protect current employment levels and create new jobs by planting new second generation crops for energy use.
The perspective report “Opportunities for rural job creation in the UK energy crops sector” uses analysis undertaken for the ETI by ADAS, the UK’s largest independent provider of agricultural and environmental consultancy, rural development services and policy advice. The report concludes that the present political environment of the UK exiting the European Union provides the country with an opportunity to restructure farming support in a way which encourages the sustainable growth of the UK biomass sector by placing a value on the wider environmental benefits growing second generation energy crops can make to the UK farming landscape.
The planting of these second generation crops (Miscanthus, Short Rotation Coppice Willow and Short Rotation Forestry) also presents an opportunity to create new jobs and support existing jobs in the UK farming and forestry sectors.
ETI have been long-term advocates of bioenergy as a hugely valuable source of low carbon renewable energy because it can be stored and used flexibly to produce heat, power, liquid and gaseous fuels. Today first generation crops dominate the UK energy crops sector but ETI research over the last ten years has indicated that second generation crops can deliver much greater greenhouse gas emissions savings across a wide range of end uses. ETI believes that with improvement to total land productivity and a reduction in food waste, the UK could convert a total of 1.4 Mha of UK land to bioenergy crops by the mid-2050s without impacting on the level of land used for UK-grown food consumption.
The crops can improve farm-scale biodiversity and soil carbon sequestration particularly when transitioning from low productivity arable land. Placing a value on these attributes through farming support mechanisms would reduce the risk to farmers by providing them with a degree of income security.
The majority of the new job opportunities that would be created will be part-time (due to the seasonality of the planting cycle) but importantly these will complement the existing seasonal demands of other roles in the agricultural and forestry sectors, particularly in arable farming, thereby extending employment options to year round activities.
To make this a reality, investment is needed “off farm” to develop the capabilities of the specialist contractor base involved in the planting, harvesting and the production of plant breeding material as they require specialist machinery.