Not easy being green

To help him celebrate a significant milestone in his life, the wife of a close friend of mine invited me to a rather spectacular party that she had planned for him at a local watering hole.

But because the bash was so far from my home, I decided to drive down the day of the party and spend the night at a local bed and breakfast run by a local dairy farmer.

I must say, it was all rather pleasant to be down on the farm. Not simply because of the chance to take in some clean, fresh country air, but also because it gave me the opportunity to take a look at some of the high-technology implements that were being put to use there.

As impressed as I was by all of his computer-controlled machinery, I was also somewhat astonished at the price of the equipment too – some of the machines that were being used on the farm cost tens of thousands of pounds. Others cost even more.

Clearly, then, while waking up at two-o’clock on a rainy November morning to milk cows might not appeal to everyone, it certainly would appear to be a rather lucrative business, if the farmers that do so can afford to fork out so much money on such expensive equipment.

But is it? Well, apparently, some folks don’t think so. And Jonathan Rigby is one of them. At Carr Farm at Warton, near Preston, farmer Rigby is moving out of dairy farming, which his family has been involved in for generations, into so-called ‘energy farming’ instead.

That’s right. On that farm, green energy specialist Farmgen are constructing a £2.5m anaerobic digestion (AD) plant that will use crops from nearby fields grown by Green Energy Farmers to create ‘biogas’ to generate 1MW of electricity, which will then be exported to the National Grid.

Apparently, Rigby isn’t alone in his goal to make money from anything other than milk. According to Farmgen, because they are facing falling prices for farm products and squeezed by the supermarket giants, other farmers are also considering similar moves.

Farmgen’s chief operating officer Ed Cattigan says that while the government is making it attractive for farmers to switch over (to produce renewable energy instead of raise dairy cattle), it is more than the supermarkets are doing to keep families in farming – presumably by buying their milk so cheaply.

For my part, I’m pleased for Mr Rigby and the local farm community who will all obviously benefit from making cash out of generating clean energy from crops.

At the same time, I’m disheartened to think that one day we may no longer be able to catch sight of cattle grazing on pastures, as all the existing dairy farms switch to produce green energy to power the very same supermarkets that are buying their milk from abroad.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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