From July 15, all poultry farmers across the EU will be allowed to combust poultry litter on their farms to create energy, something which the National Farmers’ Union has lobbied for over several years and which has also been welcomed by the British Poultry Council this week.
Litter most commonly consists of the wood shavings or straw used in housing for keeping broilers - chickens raised for the table - together with the accumulated droppings, and based on UK broiler figures, there is a potential annual supply of around 3.5 million tonnes of the material.
In an industry which relies on high volumes of electricity to maintain temperatures in chicken and turkey sheds, poultry experts predict that there will be high take-up of the system.
Chris Potter, public affairs officer at the British Poultry Council, said: “This is a positive step for an industry that continues to look to embrace innovative new fuel sources and technologies in an effort to improve efficiency and sustainability.”
Duncan Priestner, the NFU’s poultry board chairman, agreed that the rules, created through an amendment to the European Commission’s Animal By-products regulations, represented a “massive, positive development”.
“There are also a number of other benefits, including healthier birds, minimised biosecurity risks and opportunities to use nutrient-rich ash on farmland,” Mr Priestner said, although he hopes it will not bring more red tape upon farmers.
“Our poultry farmers will be able to take advantage of these opportunities, and we are working closely with Government to ensure it keeps the regulatory burden to a minimum, costs down, reinforces its commitment to supporting renewable energy and sustainable food production and that systems are in place to approve combustion plants as soon as possible.”
The only recognised trial of the system in England has been carried out by Norfolk-based farmers Nigel and Patrick Joice, who produce 5.8 million birds per year. Two 55kw biomass burners have produced up to 93 per cent of the farm’s heat requirements and the trial has helped to shape the legislation.
A recent trend of increasing numbers of broilers produced in the UK means there is great potential for the new energy system to reap dividends, according to Chris Dickinson, the NFU’s county advisor for South and West Yorkshire.
Mr Dickinson, who is also the region’s poultry expert for the NFU, said: “I think most large broiler farms will be looking at it. This is a big win for the NFU and a no-brainer that helps farmers and the environment - it’s a real boost for efficiency.
“Broiler production is intensive. The chicks come in a day old and that first week is the most important of their lives. We have to get them to a fair temperature and over the next couple of months you use a lot of electricity.
“It is a very expensive business and this is something we can put in for a bit of financial security.”