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Olivia Midgley: How on-farm AD can help shape the farming sector’s future

How on-farm AD can help shape the farming sector’s future

by Olivia Midgley, Head of News and Business, Farmers Guardian

UK farming is at a pivotal point, with decisions being made now which will shape the industry for future generations.

Government policy is focussed on caring for the environment and fighting climate change, whilst making businesses ‘cleaner and leaner’.  The farming sector has been rising to this challenge, with many organisations already heading in this direction of travel and the NFU setting an ambitious target for UK farming to become net zero by 2040.  Becoming more productive and efficient and cutting down waste, while simultaneously boosting soil health, protecting the wider environment and above all, maintaining our high standards, will be key to fulfilling this ambition.

Renewable energy, and anaerobic digestion (AD) in particular, can play a vital role in reaching the target. Not only can on-farm AD tap into the Government’s “Green Brexit” vision to protect the environment outside of the EU, and the NFU’s mission to lower agriculture’s carbon footprint, it brings a truly circular solution to farmers,  helping them manage their wastes on one hand and improving their crop yields on the other by fertilising their soils with the nutrient-rich by-product of the AD process: digestate.

That is not to say that the sector is without its challenges. Large capital outlay is a huge hurdle, which some are unable to overcome. At the same time, we have seen tariff support fall away to almost nothing, which has been detrimental to those reliant on selling energy.

However, these constraints have pushed the industry to work harder, with new and innovative projects coming on stream which do far more than just produce energy. Some businesses are linking up with local authorities to help solve their food waste issues, while ensuring a secure flow of feedstock, and I have met groups of farmers who have joined forces to raise capital for projects which will reduce their carbon footprint and their energy costs collectively.

In the face of growing uncertainty over future support for farming businesses after Brexit, diversifying income through investment in technologies such as AD – which also boosts the industry’s green credentials – can surely only be a win-win.

Hear more from Olivia as she chairs Panel Session 2: AD’s role in farming’s Net Zero future, at ADBA National Conference on 11th December. Find out more and register at http://adbioresources.org/events/adba-national-conference/

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