…and will it follow the Climate Change Committee advice to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050?

Our director, Neil, has recently been attending various digital discussions surrounding the flagship ELM scheme, as we work with NFU and REA and other high profile bodies to help form a combined response that represents many growers of energy crops.

The new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme is an incredible opportunity to encourage farmers to consider green options when choosing to complete work that enhances the environment. We have found that perennial energy crops such as miscanthus and SRC willow can be great for the environment by helping promote net-zero emissions and converting land into profit.

But Why Include Perennial Energy Crops?

Under this scheme, farmers and growers will be paid for work that makes a positive change to the environment. This can be through tree and hedge planting, river management and flood mitigation, and the creation or preservation of habitats or wildlife. What’s essential to consider is that by using perennial energy crops, all of these environmental enhancements are possible.

Many growers’ crops are already helping combat soil erosion, protecting food crops, and providing natural flood management, whilst also catching debris that would otherwise block up bridges and cause problems further downstream.

Wood biomass for both renewable electricity and renewable heat can make a positive contribution to climate change targets and to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and significantly reduce the cost of energy to farm businesses that have a biomass system. SRF, SRC Willow wood crops, and other woody energy crops including Miscanthus provide excellent local land resource efficiency and a high energy return on investment.

Here are just some of the many benefits of perennial energy crops that we look forward to showing DEFRA policymakers soon…

  • Creating wildlife corridors and increasing huge positive biodiversity value with habitats for a diverse community of birds, small mammals and over 260 species of positive insects!
  • Providing a source of pollen and nectar for pollinating insects & bees during late winter and early spring periods to help build population numbers.
  • Improving soil infiltration and controlling soil erosion
  • Mitigating flood risks as part of natural flood management (NFM) – enhancing sediment retention and delaying the flow of floodwater by the high number of stems per hectare (hydraulic roughness).
  • Water quality improvements – protecting watercourses, particularly in Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) areas or alongside rivers, by intercepting nitrate and phosphate run-off from both diffuse and point sources.
  • Local air quality improvements – taller crops such as SRC filter airborne ammonia emissions from dairy, poultry and pig farms, landfills, and sewage treatment works etc.
  • Enhancing rural landscapes and rehabilitating contaminated land – the annual leaf litter return improves the soil structure and nutrient status of poor quality soils and greatly increases invertebrate populations.
  • Carbon sequestration – large amounts of carbon are stored and cycled in the soil during the lifespan of the crop, which may exceed 25 to 30 years.
  • Providing shelter with sufficient height to protect livestock, crops and properties, without dominating the landscape.
  • SRC could even be used to build biosecurity barriers between farms to reduce the spread of livestock infections such as John’s disease and bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD).

We have found that perennial energy crops such as miscanthus and SRC willow can not only be great for the environment, but should also be more renowned for their utility, versatility, and profitability. This is why we believe that perennial energy crops should be vitally important to the new ELM scheme, as it could help catapult this important niche market into the mainstream and allow farms nationwide to be uplifted into a greener age.

It is quite simple! If perennial energy crops can be grown into a renewable source of biomass and biofuel at a reasonable cost, then they should too be included in this potentially revolutionising scheme. Crops such as SRC willow and miscanthus can store and cycle carbon in the soil, which is a rare ability that will lead to the further stabilisation of our environment. These low-input crops are highly functional with plenty of green benefits, such as an early source of food for pollinators, and even further providing habitat for positive insects to help nurture a useful and biodiverse ecosystem.

The benefits of these incredible crops are endless, and we are looking forward to tabling these views so that the global market for perennial energy crops can prosper, leading to a richer environment for us all!

The Climate Change Committee encourages the planting of UK energy crops to around 23,000 hectares each year to help achieve a Net-Zero economy by 2050, so we hope that DEFRA with their new revolutionary ELM scheme will both support existing perennial energy crop growers’ efforts and encourage any new growers going forward.

If you’re growing energy crops and would like to be represented or have a good case study to put forward to DEFRA, please get in touch with us at ECC.

We can do more together than we can do apart! There are over 600+ UK energy crop growers out there already making a big difference towards achieving a Net-Zero economy by 2050. The more we plant in the right places to enhance food and livestock, protect the soil, and increase biodiversity, the less we have to import for our energy and bio-products requirements which means that we are less reliant on fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources.

This river’s annual flooding is mitigated by the willow this farmer has planted under guidance from Neil Watkins

Willow headlands are biodiversity superheroes!

SRC Willow is exceptionally fast growing

Other beneficial plant species flourish around willow plantations, enhancing their use for livestock