13/02/2009 - Willow is the latest crop to be harvested at a Southburn farm as demand for green energy soars.
With the help of a converted sugar cane harvester from Australia a team of farmers from JSR Farms Ltd, near Driffield have harvested an estimated fifty acres of coppice willow which will be converted into energy.
The harvest operation was headed up by Philip Huxtable, director of Market Weighton based Renewable Energy Growers (Regro), which represents around 60 farmers throughout Yorkshire and Lincolnshire who are venturing into the cultivation of green energy resources.
Mr Huxtable, who is also a director at JSR, said the harvest went very well and will help meet the soaring demand for green energy.
Mr Huxtable said: "It went very well and luckily we had a dry spell for a few weeks. We are professional farmers and treat willow as a crop like any other, we look after it and give it an application of pig slurry."
"Demand is outstripping supply, Drax will take everything we produce and there is a demand for bio-mass plants for heating council buildings and schools for example," he added.
This was the second harvest of the 25 hectares of coppice willow which was was planted at Southburn three years ago with the aim of cultivating a low input, low cost crop that can produce consistent returns and fit neatly into the farming calendar.
"It’s great to start the new year with a harvest and it fits the harvesting year. When harvesting willow out of season you’re not trying to do it when trying to do everything else on the farm," Mr Huxtable said.
The operation took just five days to complete, with the harvester covering around ten acres a day chopping the willow into billets of around four or five inches in length in what Mr Huxtable has described as a "smooth operation."
Mr Huxtable firmly believes that producing alternative energy resources, such as willow, could be the key to helping farmers weather the economic storm.
"I don’t think many farmers realise just how bad prospects are. Our calculations for JSR show that the cost of growing wheat is rising by 88 percent compared to last year and the cost of growing rape will virtually double," he said.
"Willow has become a premium product with an increasing demand from industry and consumers for wood chips and billets," he added.
Source: Driffield Times