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Farming Fuel

PUBLISHED: 22:48 20 June 2012 | UPDATED: 22:03 21 February 2013

Farming future: Solar and wind power, coppice and manure can all make a huge difference to the way we live our lives - and farmers can provide it all.

Farming future: Solar and wind power, coppice and manure can all make a huge difference to the way we live our lives - and farmers can provide it all.

Adam Henson, presenter of the BBC's Countryfile, gives his thoughts on farming of the future having the potential to fuel the UK.

The British countryside has always fed the population; its been the farmers job to provide food for the nations table. But in the 21st century our fields and farms also have the potential to help fuel the UK too. Technology and necessity are giving farmers the opportunity to go green to provide energy for themselves and others.

For the environmentally-minded, there are several options. The first, and possibly the easiest, is capturing the suns rays through solar PV panels (or photovoltaic cells) to produce electricity.

The roofs of large buildings like grain stores and animal sheds are ideal for installing panels and its an ingenious way of powering things like farm machinery and milking parlours. The electricity generated by PV cells can also be fed in to the National Grid.

Then theres the altogether more contentious option of wind turbines. For some farmers it makes sense to harness the power of nature in this way, whether they put up a single turbine to run things like poultry houses and pig units or erect a bigger wind farm. As with all innovations though, it has to be the right development in the right place. Turbines are not to everyones taste and there are lots of locations where theyre just not suitable. In fact, in some areas there are strict planning constraints and it remains a controversial issue.

Theres been less media coverage and public debate about using organic matter to provide power. Some farmers are producing biogas by putting things like vegetable waste, manure or a range of crops into a digester to produce methane.

The gas is used to drive energy-generating engines and create electricity which, again, can be fed in to the grid. In Europe this is a relatively common way for farmers to generate energy and although its nowhere near as popular in the UK, the idea is gradually gaining support here.

Then theres biomass. This is energy produced from burning plant matter in biomass power stations. The two main sources are farming by-products, like straw, and specially grown crops like willow or poplar coppice which are cut and chipped before being incinerated.

For me, renewables are one part of the solution. As food producers, I think farmers have a responsibility to give serious thought not only to energy production but also our own energy use.

In the last few years, enormous strides have been made to improve our carbon footprint, reduce fuel use and increase efficiency.

Across the country an increasing number of farmers are recycling rain water, sharing machinery and using satellite imaging to spray and harvest with more precision.

Together, I reckon thats the secret to a leaner, greener future.

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