Thursday, December 14, 2017

Anaerobic digester opens new market for Suffolk farmers

October 3, 2017 by  
Filed under News & Business

WLHall-ElloughADplant

The creation of an AD feedstock company has opened a new market for a consortium of Suffolk farmers – and is helping the fight against blackgrass too.

Ian Hall, of Beccles-based WL Hall & Sons, has successfully grown crops for a local digester for four years on 550ha of owned and contract-farmed land. He started Ellough Feedstocks just one year ago alongside his brother Tom and local contractor Adrian Smith.

“We were approached by the owners of the Ellough AD plant, Privilege Finance, to become the sole supplier of feedstock for the site and manage the intake of all crops to the digester,” explains Mr Hall.

Twelve months later, the company is supplying the crops on a harvested and delivered basis. It is also responsible for the removal of the nutrient rich digestate produced by the plant, which is spread back on the land.

“Having learnt so much in the time we’d spent supplying crops for AD, we jumped at the chance to take this on, and share our learnings with other farmers in the local area,” says Mr Hall.

“Although it’s still relatively new, we’ve had great uptake from local farms and currently work with around 30 farmers to supply Privilege’s five-megawatt plant just down the road from us.”

Crop rotation 

The opportunity to increase the number of crops within the rotation is a major driver for many of the contracted farmers. “Previously we had a limited market for maize or rye, so our crop rotations typically included wheat, oilseed rape, barley and beans, as our only mainstream options.”

“The new market offered by the AD plant allowed us to increase this to include maize, rye and sugar beet. This gives us more flexibility to plant crops that are suitable for the different soil types we have on the farm.”

The more diverse rotation also helps with the control of blackgrass, which is a big problem in the area. “Rye is extremely vigorous and is very effective at smothering blackgrass. Also as the whole crop is harvested usually around late June, there is very little chance for seed return to the soil.”

The versatile nature of rye means it can be grown on virtually any soil type and with an early harvest date, it is great in a rotation before rape. “The early harvest means that our farmers can get rape planted early, ensuring it gets off to a good start.”

First-time grower

Control of troublesome weeds was one of the main drivers for choosing to supply Ellough Feedstocks, explains first-time grower Paul Howland of Shinglehall Farm, Brampton.

“Our farm is very diverse, and includes 300ha of oilseed rape, wheat, barley and peas, as well as an award-winning pig unit, and a caravan site. Therefore, supplying crops for AD was just one strategy to spread risk for the farm business.

“Blackgrass has been an issue for us for a number of years, which led to us setting aside 30ha of the worst affected areas for drilling our first rye crop in late September last year. We achieved good establishment, with the rye tillering quickly in the spring, allowing us to harvest in June.

“We’re really impressed that the bulkiness of the rye crop has been able to out-compete weed growth, and had good results this year, achieving 42t/ha for the rye, with maize harvest yet to come.”

Chemical inputs cost around £50/ha – and Mr Howland says it has proved to be more cost effective to include rye in the rotation than attempting to control blackgrass from pre-emergence in his cereal crops.

Risk spreading

With global markets casting high levels of uncertainty over the future price of crops, the AD market also provides an opportunity to increase stability, he explains. “Through supplying Ellough Feedstocks, we know what price to expect to receive once the crop is harvested.

“We’re already planning to include rye in this year’s drilling rotation, which was an easy decision for us to make. For farmers who are wishing to diversify and spread risk, supplying crops for AD can mitigate some of the uncertainty that surrounds the open market.

“It supports integrated crop management through a diverse rotation, and also helps in our management of blackgrass.”

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