Cereal growers in pole position

East Anglia's cereal growers are in pole position to deliver home-grown “green” fuels from sugar beet, oilseed rape and wheat crops, the National Farmers' Union said yesterday.

East Anglia's cereal growers are in pole position to deliver home-grown “green” fuels from sugar beet, oilseed rape and wheat crops, the National Farmers' Union said yesterday.

Oil giant Shell's former chairman, Lord Oxburgh, has ruffled feathers in the biofuel world by backing technology developed in Canada to produce fuel from cereal straw and green waste.

However, former Norfolk farmers' leader Tony Williams questioned whether Shell's strategy could deliver in the “here and now.” He has been closely involved with an all-party group headed by Baroness Shephard, representing key rural organisations to promote biofuels. “We know that existing crops can be processed to produce biofuels which will help to comply with Europe's biofuel obligation,” he said.

“Who is going to pay farmers to bale and then cart straw across the countryside? It will not be worth it when crops like oilseed rape and wheat are available and are much more efficient fuel sources,” said Mr Williams.


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Matt Ware, who advises the NFU on non-food crops, said that Lord Oxburgh's intervention at the recent Oxford Farming Conference was not helpful. His solution was “pretty disingenuous” because Shell's technology has not been hugely commercially successful.

“We are still on the hard shoulder when the rest of Europe is accelerating in the fast lane producing biofuels. British Sugar is building a plant at Wissington to process sugar beet into bioethanol and a farmers' co-operative, Wessex Grain, is planning a plant in the south-west to process wheat,” said Mr Ware.

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From April 2008, the Government will require oil companies to include at least five per cent of petrol and diesel from renewable resources.

Mr Ware said that Shell was clearly not keen on biofuels in Britain and was attempting to “muddy the waters” by advocating an alternative technology to convert straw and other celluose material including willow into fuel. “This might deliver the goods in the medium term but it is not a working solution today,” he said. “I've just returned from a visit to Brazil and all the Shell filling stations I saw were selling bioethanol produced from sugar cane,” he added.

The NFU's regional director, Pamela Forbes, said: “In East Anglia we grow more than half a million hectares of wheat, more than half the country's sugar beet and 90,000 hectares of oilseed rape so our farms can make a substantial contribution to fuelling the country's future transport needs.”

An East of England Development Agency report into bioethanol concluded that almost 12,000 jobs would be created at a 5pc level of production of bioethanol for the UK fuel market.

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