Brussels under fire on biofuel crop limits

A leading feed industry player has underlined NFU warnings that a plan to limit the use of edible crops for biofuels could backfire.

Two leading European Commissioners came up with the plan, in response to aid agency criticism – and public dislike – of western countries “burning food”. There is also concern about ancient forests in the developing world being cleared to make room for palm oil production for subsidised biofuels in Europe and the USA.

EC Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger and the Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, propose that biofuels from cereals, starch, sugar and oilseeds should not be allowed to count towards more than half the minimum target of 10 per cent renewables in transport fuel by 2020.

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And they want to change the subsidy formula to take more account of global knock-on effects in biofuel production, which would favour the use of wastes like straw and manure. But they are accused of gesture politics which could backfire on European farmers who have already changed their crop rotations.

The NFU said the commissioners had failed to take full account of the fact that biofuel byproducts were being used for animal feed.

Its combinable crops board chairman, Andrew Watts, said: “Europe already has a 20-million tonne deficit in animal feed each year and our pig and poultry sectors in particular have seen a 43 per cent increase in feed costs in five years.

“Biofuels represent the only realistic means of reducing Europe’s reliance on imported fuel and they help to give farmers a profitable break crop for rotation which is good for the land.

“Instead of removing certainty from the biofuels market we need policies that will send a signal to arable farmers to produce greater quantities of grain for all markets. Both food and fuel is the way forward. This u-turn is not.”

This week, feed and feed systems dealer Keenan offered support for the NFU argument – and results from experiments using biofuel waste as feed.

A Keenan briefing on the subject was attended by the NFU’s biofuel policy adviser, James Mills, who said the EC proposals threatened to cut European rapeseed production by two thirds.

Neil Mills, from feed dealer Trident, said Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS), derived from wheat processed to make ethanol, was becoming an important source of feed. Each tonne of wheat sent for refining produced 600kg of ethanol and 400kg of DDGS.

Keenan said it had been working with Illinois University to test the inclusion of a product similar to DDGS in dairy rations. It had been thought it could not be profitably used for more than 10 per cent of dry content. But mixed properly the university had found that up to 20 per cent was practical.

However, the difference between the best and worst mixes, in terms of income over cost, was 70p a cow a day. Thork Moos, Keenan’s market manager, summed up: “If you can’t make a good job of mixing a ration, don’t go down this route.”

But he added that biofuel co-products amounted to “the biggest feeding issue that has ever come up in one go… We’re not saying we’ve got all the answers yet, but we’re working on them.”

A European Commission spokeswoman said: “The proposals now go to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament and either can introduce amendments. But even as drafted, the proposals would not stop anyone producing any biofuels anyway, if they could do it without subsidy.”