Jonathan Scurlock’s five-day whistle-stop tour of the South West allowed him to see the diverse world of NFU membership – and gauge opinions and policy on renewable energy.
I leapt at this chance to cover a different county every day for a week, speaking to members both enthusiastic and critical about renewables, and to conduct some initial research for an NFU objective on the local impact of anaerobic digester plants.
Driving with tunnel vision in the thin grey November fog, my first stop was a Wiltshire dairy farmer with rooftop solar generation and a growing interest in farm-scale battery storage systems, followed by a broiler poultry producer who already hosts a solar farm, both keen to hear more about the tailored advice that the NFU offers through our Farm Energy Service (0370 844 5700).
An organic dairy producer near Swindon showed me his recently-built solar farm on poor-quality land, while a member in South Dorset, the next day, needed advice on the current direction of government energy policy to support his self-developed renewable energy ambitions.
On to a large dairy enterprise near Shepton Mallet, where a group of farmers convened to walk around a small scale digester fed by slurry, manure and waste feed, before adjourning to a room overlooking the milking parlour for a question and answer session.
In Exeter, I connected with local NFU staff to meet Merlin Hyman, chief executive of the regional renewable energy agency, discussing grid connections and the need for better regional land use data. At the Tiverton NFU office we had a lively debate at their Annual Open Meeting, discussing the pros and cons of different renewables, before a sprint to the other end of drizzly Devon for a well-attended village hall meeting with plenty of pasties and tea.
Over breakfast in Cornwall the next day, no fewer than ten members turned up for NFU advice on their renewables projects, whereupon I joined the county chair for a discussion meeting on anaerobic digestion and electricity storage, and lastly an audience with the local MP in St Austell.
I always enjoy direct contact with NFU members, to hear their side of the story, to share their frustrations or enthusiasm, and to explain what we as an organisation can do for them. Some are relaxed about renewable energy; others almost zealous about the transformative positive impact of this new diversification opportunity. This tour was just part of a wider “ground truthing” of our NFU Headquarters work on AD, and we are continuing to develop our policy on this subject...