Justifying Maize Crop Production for Fuel Not Food

UK - Last week at the Oxford Farming Conference in the UK, environmental campaigner and author, George Monbiot, launched an attack on several farming practices.
calendar icon 13 January 2015
clock icon 3 minute read

Among his criticisms, he hit out at the current trend towards anaerobic digestion on farms for alternative fuels and the use us maize grown specifically for AD.

Now, the CEO of the UK’s Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), Charlotte Morton has hit back at the criticisms.

AD leads to new biotech products from organic wastes, ADBA CEO, Charlotte Morton

In a letter to TheSheepSite she said: It is important to keep the use of bioenergy crops for AD in proper perspective. According to the latest Defra statistics released on 25 November 2014, the total maize area accounts for 0.5 per cent of England’s total arable area and in turn just 17 per cent of this – 0.085 per cent of the total – is used for AD.

“Rather than reducing the amount of agricultural land in production, AD crops can form a crucial component of a sustainable agricultural rotation, by making break and cover crops economic while maintaining and enhancing biodiversity. In reality crops grown for AD can, therefore, aid the economic and environmental sustainability of farming operations and make a substantive contribution to the UK’s goals for low-carbon energy.

"Indeed, to ensure that AD makes a sustainable contribution to UK agriculture, the AD sector has worked hard with Defra to agree guidelines on Best Practice for Crop Feedstocks in AD. This guidance demonstrates the wide benefits of crop-based AD to sustainable farming and how good practice can be used to bring positive environmental outcomes and avoid risks, in particular by integrating crops for AD into the whole farm system.

“Furthermore, AD extracts the value from organic wastes such as the manures, slurries, discards, outgrades and residues that arise in the course of farming, generating domestic green energy production and new high value biotechnology products, such as biochemicals & bioplastics.

"Rather than reducing the amount of agricultural land in production, AD crops can form a crucial component of a sustainable agricultural rotation"
Charlotte Morton

“In addition, far from destroying soil structure, the biofertiliser produced from the AD process can be used in place of expensive and increasingly inefficient chemical-based alternatives, improving soil quality, crop yields and availability of nutrients (including nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and sulphur to name a few).

“It is also worth referencing the wider benefits of AD, which has the potential to generate around 10 per cent of the UK’s domestic gas demand (reducing GHG emissions by two per cent in the process), improve the UK’s food and energy security and create about 35,000 jobs. The Committee on Climate Change has clearly stated that the UK will not reach renewable energy targets without a substantial contribution from bioenergy, and AD can deliver that in a sustainable way.”

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