“Old MacDonald had a solar farm…” (sorry)

By Gary Hartley

Despite much increased general interest in small renewables in the last few years, there would be few who would espouse the view that the rollout of them in the UK has been completely smooth. But there’s certainly one group in the population whose appetite for solar, wind and renewable heat seems totally undiminished: farmers.

Around one third of English and Welsh farmers will be involved in producing, using or supplying renewable energy by this summer, so says a survey by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Natwest. On the back of this, farmers’ potential to make a difference in this field has been hailed as “much greater than we ever imagined” by the NFU’s Jonathan Scurlock.

The broad fact that farmers are increasingly interested in renewable energy is not as much of a surprise as the progress made so far. Farmers have the land to install renewables to a bigger capacity than an average home, and often the unobstructed weather conditions to bring higher energy yields. There’s also the fact that these are people more familiar than most with the concept of reaping what you sow.

On top of all that, Farming Futures, a collaboration between various agricultural-interest organisations, has been pushing the importance of farming in any renewable revolution for a while now.

A couple of years ago they found that nearly 40 per cent of farmers surveyed in England said they were already affected by climate change. Nearly 60 per cent expect to be affected in the next ten years. There’s also the firm economic incentive to diversify the kind of work that happens on farms these days.

There are still problems to be overcome, though. Not being an agricultural expert myself, I contacted my friend Caroline Stocks, a seasoned agricultural journalist, to see what she had to say about generating green energy down on the farm:

“Agriculture’s investment in renewable energy is growing thanks to the contribution it can make to farm profits and in reducing the industry’s environmental impact. In the face of soaring input and fuel costs, renewable energy projects provide a welcome source of income via the government’s Feed-In Tariff scheme, as well as a cost-effective, secure source of on-farm energy. 

“Planning permission is proving a barrier to some farmers, with some facing stiff opposition from local residents and pressure groups when it comes to projects involving wind turbines. But agriculture on the whole is progressing towards helping the government meet its targets to produce 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.”

So if you live rurally and want a bit of first-hand renewables advice, you could do a lot worse than getting on down the farm. For a bit of desk research before donning your wellies, our Rural Carbon Challenge Fund page has some excellent case studies of renewables projects on and involving farms in the North West of England.