After a consultation on biofuels was recently published which could put a stop to their production, Abi Kay looks at how the industry supports arable and livestock farmers.
Farmers could stand to benefit in more ways than one from the call for the Government to introduce E10, a new ‘greener’ petrol made from animal feed grade wheat.
By law, the UK must ensure 10 per cent of its transport fuel comes from renewable sources by 2020.
Biofuels companies have suggested using E10 – a petrol which has an ethanol blending ratio of 10 per cent compared to the current 5 per cent – is the best way to meet the target.
The process of making ethanol using wheat creates a by-product known as distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), a high-protein animal feed comparable to soya.
Richard Royal, head of Government affairs at Vivergo Fuels, the UK’s biggest producer of bioethanol, said: “Our animal feed provides a high-protein alternative to imported soya, as well as containing additional ingredients and roughage farmers would otherwise have to source elsewhere.
“Protein levels provide milk yields equivalent to soya, but crucially this comes from a stable and secure, duty-free, readily available and low transit British source.
“In an uncertain post-Brexit world, it makes sense for British businesses like ours to be supporting British farmers, and vice-versa, rather than relying on imports and exports.”
Protein concentrates are an integral part of livestock feed, but concerns have been raised for a number of years about European reliance on soya imported from Argentina, Brazil and the United States.
EU self-sufficiency in protein-rich feed materials was just 32 per cent in 2011, so work has been ongoing to increase soybean production.
Other alternatives being pursued are increased growth of grain legumes such as faba bean, field pea and lupins, as well as forage legumes – mainly alfalfa.
But a recent study by AHDB into the benefits of bioethanol co-products found DDGS has the potential to replace other ingredients in animal feed.
Harley Stoddart, who led the study, said: “DDGS is a home-grown high-protein animal feed which can be used moist or dry, in rations or in formulations, across a broad range of species including beef and dairy cows, sheep, pigs and poultry.
“It is a good news story, a genuine dual purpose crop. Wheat in the field becomes high-protein animal feed and bioethanol for fuel.”
Vivergo Fuels takes up to 100,000 tonnes of wheat each month to create bioethanol.
It claims to be paying farmers £1 million more than they would receive if they exported their produce, and their animal feed provides for about 20 per cent of UK dairy cows.
Dairy farmer Mick Spears from Cornhill-on-Tweed said: “Our farm has the highest yielding herd in Northern England and Scotland, and we rely on the premium, high-protein animal feed that we receive from Vivergo. It is great that there is a sustainable, home-grown protein source readily available on our doorstep, meaning that we do not have to worry about searching for an imported feed supplier.
“Not only is Vivergo benefitting our herds, it also supports the wider-farming community through its supply chain.”
Vivergo managing director Mark Chesworth believes about 40 per cent of the UK’s dairy cows could be fed by the company’s DDGS if Government Ministers agree to introduce E10 fuel.
He said: “It is essential the UK Government is supportive in terms of increasing the current bioethanol blending ratio in UK petrol, so Vivergo Fuels can provide a long-term, sustainable and secure domestic market for UK farmers.”
But the growth supported by the biofuels industry could be under threat from Department for Transport (DfT) proposals to cut the volume of crops allowed to be used for biofuels from 7 per cent to 2 per cent. Another option being considered is 0 per cent – an effective ban.
The DfT has proposed such a low cap under the Renewable Energy Directive to avoid inadvertently increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
This has happened in other parts of the world, where previously non-farmed lands were cleared to replace food crops which were diverted to biofuels production.
The phenomenon is known as indirect land use change, but it has not been an issue in the UK.
Higher crop cap
The NFU is lobbying for a higher crop cap.
Brett Askew, NFU north east combinable crops board chairman, said: “The biofuels industry represents a golden opportunity for UK farmers. It provides a clear uplift to the market and has given arable farmers the confidence and security there is a home for their crops.
“The animal feed produced as a co-product of biofuel production is essential for our dairy farmers, who are facing rising feed costs due to the falling pound.
“In the consultation, the NFU will be asking the Government to set the crop cap at the maximum permitted level of 7 per cent to ensure this industry can run at its full potential.”