Hard-pressed farmers harvesting renewable energy for extra income

An increasing number of struggling farmers are investing in renewable energy as an alternative source of income, according to the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and RenewableUK.

Recent analysis from NatWest and RBS revealed that in 2012, the average farm made between £12,000 and £50,000 from generating their own wind energy, which offers the highest rate or return, while more than 50% of farmers expressed interest in solar power.

According to the NFU, this extra income is crucial for famers in a year that saw crop yields reduced and productivity down to 1980s levels.

NFU chief adviser for renewable energy and climate change Dr Jonathan Scurlock said: “2012 was a difficult year for the farming community, with bad weather hitting incomes hard. Investing in renewable energy provides farmers and growers with additional earnings at a time when farm budgets have become very stretched.”

According to the analysis, most farmers interested in renewable energy are in the Midlands, at 40%, followed by Scotland, the North East and the South West.

The NFU launched its Farm Energy Service a year ago aimed at helping famers diversify into the energy sector and has supported 1,550 famers throughout the UK in their switch to renewables.

Enquiries from the service during the first 12 months revealed that 52% of renewable queries from farmers related to solar technologies, which tend to have more eligible sites than any other technologies whereas 30% of queries related to wind turbines which, according to specialist surveyors Fisher German, offer the highest yields.

Wind and tidal power association RenewableUK chief executive Maria McCaffery said: “Farmers are experts at harnessing the Earth’s natural resources, so it’s no surprise that they are leading the way on wind energy. The UK has the most powerful wind resource in Europe and this has provided a vital source of income for farmers, helping to preserve rural communities in Britain.”

A survey from January 2012 had demonstrated that farmers were concerned about costs and planning difficulties associated with renewable energy.

However, according to Fisher German, the approval rate for wind projects is high with 82% of applications for smaller wind approved at local level.

In addition, while medium sized turbines can take longer at 18-24 months to get through planning, the success rate remains high with 85% of the applications being granted planning permission.

Conor McGlone

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