Avid readers of my blog will know I have been campaigning about the detrimental impacts of maize cultivation in Devon, in particular its implication in local flooding – see here for blogs on that topic. Well, some progress appears to have been made. Last week the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published a consultation document entitled “Review of support for Anaerobic Digestion (AD) and micro-Combined Heat and Power under the Feed-in Tariffs scheme” – you can download it and read it here. Be warned – it is mighty hard work …. Much of the document relates to proposals to reduce the ‘Feed in tariff’ payments but part of it relates to maize.
The document states “It is also Government policy that the primary purpose of agricultural land should be for growing food. Data published at the end of 2015 suggests maize is increasingly being grown for AD installations.”. This conclusion mirrors exactly what I have been saying!
As a result the following two options have been put forward:-
- Option 1 – Restrict FITs payments to electricity generated from biogas derived only from wastes and residues
If implemented, only electricity generated from biogas derived from wastes and residues will be eligible for generation and export tariff payments.
- Option 2 – Limit FITs payments in relation to electricity generated from biogas not derived from wastes and residues to 50% of the total biogas yield
If implemented, electricity generated from biogas derived from wastes and residues will be eligible for generation and export tariff payments. Electricity generated from biogas derived from other feedstocks will be eligible for generation and export tariff payments but only up to a maximum proportion of 50% of the total biogas yield produced in that quarter.
The maximum is set at 50% because crops such as maize tend to have a higher biogas yield compared to typical farm waste feedstocks such as manures, resulting in a relatively low ratio of crop to waste per tonne of feedstock.
Option 2 is currently the preferred option because it provides for payments for electricity generated from biogas with high carbon abatement costs, but offsets some of the risks associated with investments and feedstock support from only using waste and residues.
What this means is that DECC intend to cut the subsidy paid to maize farmers by probably 50% (i.e. option 2) in an attempt to discourage them from growing maize as a source of biogas in Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants. The question is therefore, will a 50% cut be enough to change land use? Will this mean that the amount of maize grown in Devon will reduce and therefore will the amount of flooding experienced by local communities reduce?
This is undoubtedly progress and is to be welcomed.
DECC must have been privy to the report of the Environmental Audit Committee on Soil Health which was published today because there is much mention in that report of this very topic. You can download that report from here. The problems caused by maize are mentioned on pages 26-28 and pages 34 and 37. The recommendation of the EAC is that subsidies should be removed from maize cultivation when it is grown for AD biogas production.
The EAC took evidence from a number of specialists in the field (who are quoted in the report) including the Soil Association, Rothamstead Research, the Committee on Climate Change and the National Trust, all spoke about the problems related to maize cultivation, soil health and flooding.
However this single recommendation relating to maize and AD plants will not be enough on its own to safeguard soils and reduce flooding risk. Maize cultivation has grown from 8000 hectares in the UK in 1973 to 183,000 hectares in 2014. In Devon maize cultivation has rocketed 89% between 2000 and 2013. The vast majority (80%+) of maize is grown as feed stock for cattle and not for AD plants. The DECC proposals will therefore only apply to 20% of the maize grown in the UK.
Rory Stewart, the DEFRA minister responsible for the other 80% of maize grown in the UK also gave evidence to the EAC Committee and said “maize planted incorrectly, harvested at the wrong time of year or in the wrong climatic conditions can contribute to soil erosion” and “If your maize processes are contributing to soil erosion, that is in breach of your cross-compliance regulations and the RPA can then fine you for doing that.”
He then went on to say this “That is really an issue for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It is predominantly about energy policy, renewable energy policy and the different types of renewable energy policy, but we certainly within the Department are looking closely from our point of view at the costs and benefits of that kind of activity“.
In effect Rory Stewart said that controlling soil degradation and flooding as a result of maize cultivation needed action from DECC regarding subsidy levels. The problem is that 80% of the maize in the UK is regulated via his Department’s cross compliance rules which are clearly not working effectively.
To be generous to Rory Stewart one might say that Government works in a highly choreographed fashion. We are awaiting the publication of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report on the recent winter floods (where maize again was much discussed) along with the Government’s report on flooding and DEFRA’s 25 year Environment Plan – all expected this summer. Let’s hope that the impact of the ‘80%’ of maize is covered in those reports and changes are made as a result.
My friend and co-maize campaigner Miles King has also blogged on this topic today – see here. He also kindly alerted me to the DECC consultation which I otherwise would have missed.