Farmers demand crucial Whitehall clarity over E10 fuel ahead of Brexit date

Prospects of climate breakdown and a no-deal Brexit make the introduction of a renewable fuel, partly produced from British wheat, even more urgent than before, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has told ministers.

Access to the biofuels market for feed-grade wheat has been estimated to be worth an extra 10 per tonne to farmgate prices. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Whitehall delays over whether to sanction E10 – a petrol made from 10 per cent renewable bioethanol – have been blamed for hindering the ability of farmers to reduce the nation’s damaging greenhouse gas emissions.

It must be introduced by next year to help the UK reach the Government’s net zero target by 2050, the union said.

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The case for the fuel has become even more pertinent because of the potential for a no-deal Brexit, said Tom Bradshaw, the union’s combinable crops board chairman.

Tom Bradshaw, combinable crops board chairman at the National Farmers' Union. Picture courtesy of the NFU.

Increased wheat production to service bioethanol plants is seen as a way of giving extra financial security to growers in the event of costly tariffs being placed on British grain exports.

Access to the biofuels market for feed-grade wheat has ben estimated to be worth an extra £10 per tonne to farmgate prices.

E10 is currently available in Belgium, Finland, France and Germany. With the help of a tax break, the fuel is reported to be the top-selling petrol in France. In the US, it has been available since the 1970s. However, in the UK, so far only E5, which contains five per cent renewable bioethanol, is available from forecourts.

Mr Bradshaw said: “This is about producing food and renewable fuel in harmony with each other.

“Establishing a secure market for British wheat would mean farmers are not as vulnerable to volatile commodity markets, reducing reliance on grain exports to the EU which, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, would be hit with significant tariffs.

“British wheat growers are in a great position to supply wheat for both public consumption and the UK biofuel industry, but the lack of supportive policy is hindering their ability to deliver for the environment.”

The NFU has written to all government ministers involved in making policy decisions on renewable fuel, including Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, to highlight the economic and environmental benefits of a thriving British biofuel industry.

Mr Bradshaw, who farms in north east Essex, explained that the introduction of E10 could also help farming solve some of the challenges around climate change. The union has set an aspiration for farming across England and Wales to become net zero by 2040.

“By using the high protein by-product of E10 to replace imports of animal feed products such as soya, the livestock industry can reduce its global greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

“Over 95 per cent of cars on the road are warranted to run on E10 and, if it were introduced, it would be equivalent to taking 700,000 cars off the road. Without it, cars are actually running inefficiently.”

Mr Bradshaw added: “The British bioethanol industry has a huge role to play in reaching the Government’s target of a net zero economy by 2050 and the rollout of E10 would be a simple, fast and effective way of contributing towards this target.

“British growers have the means to deliver more renewable fuel for the nation, we now need to see ministers taking legislative action now to allow them to do so.”

The Government has maintained that any decision to introduce E10 as a new grade of petrol must balance the needs of consumers with the emissions reductions it could help to deliver.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport (DfT), said: “We are committed to supporting cleaner and greener fuels, and we recognise the important role they have to play in de-carbonising transport.

“Following our call for evidence on E10, we intend to publish our next steps in due course.”

The precise timescale for the publication of those “next steps” was not made clear.

Mr Bradshaw told The Yorkshire Post: “The Government clearly says it wants clean air and renewable energy so what I’m struggling to understand is why it is not cracking on with this.

“The DfT’s response gives me some confidence that it is going to be looked at but it is getting to the point now where it is make or break. We desperately need a clear direction of travel.”

He said the Government had to be more proactive on the issue, adding: “If its ‘next steps’ are another consultation, that is perhaps the end of the road. They need to be clear about what those next steps are.

“If we don’t see it in the next 100 days, I don’t think we will ever see it.”