Energy Crops Consultancy have been working with farmers and landowners across the country to enhance their farm mix and take bold new steps towards a more sustainable future; all while offering additional revenue and supplying local end markets with high-quality woodchip biofuel by growing energy crops such as SRC willow and SRC poplar.
The Dixon family (Terry, Eileen & Thomas) have dairy-farmed Brackenthwaite Farm in Cumbria for over 30 years. The farm has 323ha of predominantly Severely Disadvantaged Area. Most of the land is used for dairy, but there is a small area of arable too. The Dixons have long recognised the importance of the relationship between the productivity of a farm and its effect on the environment.
We’ve always been very keen on the carbon stuff. We’ve planted loads of hedges on the farm. We try to be very environmentally based – we were organic for a while. We try to reduce inputs as much as we can: SRC Willow ticks a lot of boxes!
They’ve striven to encourage biodiversity with the planting of many hedges and for a number of years they were farming their land organically. However, in 2013, with milk prices becoming extremely volatile, the Dixons returned to traditional dairy farming. This in turn left them with unused land. The high initial costs associated with expanding a dairy herd made Terry start looking for other ways of using this surplus land. In 2015, Terry met Neil Watkins of Energy Crops Consultancy at a farmers’ club. He was very impressed with Neil’s knowledge of the exciting new farming model of SRC Willow plantations.
As soon as he mentioned that SRC Willow could produce profits of £230 to £260 per acre, per year, my ears pricked up! Since we’ve planted it on land that wasn’t really producing anything, I think it could produce even more!
Following their meeting, Neil took Terry to visit sites that had already planted SRC Willow. When the Dixons took the decision to plant SRC Willow, Neil was on hand to assist Terry and Eileen in choosing the areas of their land best-suited to SRC Willow and selecting the right Willow varieties.
Terry was really impressed with Neil;
It was his enthusiasm, right from the start! Whatever we came up with, he knew the answers. He really did know everything about Willow! It’s all worked out really well, and that’s down to Neil. He’s a friend; you can trust him.
As a result of Neil’s consultations, Terry planted 74 acres (30ha) of willow. This combination of perennial energy crops alongside arable and dairy farming benefits Brackenthwaite Farm’s overall farm mix, where food-growing land is protected and enhanced with the addition of growing SRC Willow.
Biodiversity value has increased by at least 50% at the farm and the abundance of wildlife we have seen since planting has been much more than we expected.
Terry now has his own self-sufficient supply of virgin willow woodchip to power his 1kW biomass boiler which he uses for drying grass, barley and bedding. Terry has been really pleased with the uniform, premium quality, woodchip from his willow crop, and claims it is a much better biofuel compared to what he was using previously. Brackenthwaite Farm is now in a position to see surplus land returned to profitability. The long life span of an SRC Willow plantation (50 years plus) means that the next 25 years will give excellent profit yields.
We’ll leave the last word to Terry:
It’s really a low cost way of farming –
maybe we should convert the whole farm!