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Energy crops potential
Energy crops potential
Following the Kyoto climate change conference the Government agreed to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 12.5 per cent. The Government is also working towards a target of generating 10 per cent of electricity from renewable sources. In substitution for fossil fuels, energy crops have the potential to make a significant contribution to reductions in carbon dioxide which drive climate change and to the achievement of renewable energy targets. A significant contribution to the targets would require around 125,000 hectares of energy crops.
Miscanthus and short-rotation coppice have the potential to make a positive and significant contribution to the achievement of the Government's targets. Growing energy crops could help those farmers who are struggling commercially and would also provide jobs in rural communities. Miscanthus is a grass originating in Asia and Africa and is similar in appearance to bamboo. It is a perennial crop which grows from rhizomes and can reach heights of up to four metres. The stem which provides the fuel is cane like and filled with solid pith. Willow trees can be grown on a short rotation basis, cut back in the first year to produce a coppiced crop and then harvested on a three-year cycle.
Speaking on a visit to the ADAS Arthur Rickwood research station near Ely, Joyce Quin, Agriculture Minister of State, said that, in the consultation of Agenda 2000, many respondents suggested that energy crops should be supported under the Rural Development Regulation. Her department is currently working on the English RD programme and will give the question of energy crops careful consideration. Energy crops are being included in the rural development plans being drawn up for the UK but it will be necessary to secure funding for an expanded programme for energy crops.
MAFF currently funds around »200,000 of energy crops research and development at Arthur Rickwood each year. These are studying the relationships between planting density and yield in short rotation coppice and miscanthus yield potential. Work on the varietal characteristics of miscanthus is about to begin. Ms Quin also visited the Sutton power station near Ely which will be fuelled mainly by straw but will also evaluate fuel from miscanthus. The station will provide sufficient power for 80,000 dwellings, equivalent to twice the requirements of Cambridge.