High energy costs – are farmers turning green with fury?


The current cost of energy may well prove the turning point in the country’s proactive adoption of renewables, says Andrew Livingston

Despite the government’s plans to cap the cost of electricity for homes and businesses, the start of October once again saw the cost of lighting and heating increase.
The government’s intervention will have saved many farms around the country that typically survive on small profits. Nevertheless, the still-high costs remain crippling for so many small businesses.
I have heard of one large broiler farm spending tens of thousands of pounds on electricity for a crop, deciding to run their farm on a (much cheaper) red diesel generator.
Other farmers and landowners are being driven into green renewable energy solutions as they look to take their businesses off the national grid.
Farmers won’t just be cutting the power cables onto their farms figuratively; long term, investing in greener energy will actually save thousands of pounds.

Burn it or blow it
The most popular green option is biomass, where organic material is burned in a boiler to produce high-pressure steam. This in turn rotates turbine blades to power a generator and produce electricity.
The process releases some carbon dioxide, but nowhere near the amount released by conventional fossil fuels. Biomass is unsurprisingly popular on farms – they have surplus amounts of organic matter that are a by-product of their land and animals.
Even manure can be used, but it has to go through a lengthy period of moisture removal before it can be burned.
Another popular option, especially in hilly Dorset, is wind turbines – a truly green source, with the only side-effect being the noise of the turning turbines.
On our farm at the top of Beaminster Downs, wind is our constant companion; we are currently considering installing one ourselves, although the local townsfolk may have some frustrations at what they would probably call an eyesore.
Of course, on the five days a year it’s not blowing a hurricane we are treated to some sunshine. The shed roofs such as our hen house, are the perfect location for solar panels.
In the southwest, solar panels are the main source of renewable energy, with Butleigh Solar Park being one of the main contributors. Companies installing freestanding solar panels insist that sheep can easily graze underneath them and that enough sunlight reaches the grass to grow for them to eat. Near the village where I grew up, there were plans for a large solar farm on the site of the old World Service radio transmitters.
However, the plans were quashed in Rampisham – when work on the infrastructure had already started – because an ecological survey discovered extremely rare grass …

Carbon targets
Looking at the long-term picture, a year or so of astronomical electricity prices might turn out to be the very best thing for our carbon footprint.
If it takes the risk of bankruptcy to get farmers to turn green, then I say, so be it.
Rumours are circulating that the government is planning to renege on its targets to reach net zero by 2050.
Shame on Liz Truss and her government if they pull out. The NFU needs to stand strong and set an example by committing to net zero and committing to protecting the future of our country.

Sponsored by Trethowans – Law as it should be


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