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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 November 2007, 00:05 GMT
'More energy crop' could be grown
Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland News website, Highlands and Islands reporter

Field of oilseed

More farmland could be put to use for the growing of energy crops because of the problems affecting the livestock industry, a farming leader has said.

John Picken, chairman of NFU Scotland's biofuels working group, said the acres of oilseed rape and wheat grown could be increased with government backing.

Foot-and-mouth over the summer into the autumn led to restrictions on the movement of animals, lower prices and sheep on hill farms being slaughtered because they could not be sold and faced a shortage of grazing with the onset of winter.

Mr Picken said the difficulties facing livestock farmers could see grassland being ploughed up and left fallow.

However, with financial backing at UK level the land could be put to use for the growing of oilseed rape for the production of bio-diesel, or wheat for generating heat.

Mr Picken added: "The growing of cereals for malting is up to maximum capacity and I don't think we can produce any more because there are not any more maltsters or distilleries to provide for.

"So there is a bit of room so to speak for growing energy crops."

The majority of oilseed rape production is in the north east, but the arable farmer from St Andrews, Fife, said almost anywhere in Scotland was suited to the crop.

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Biofuels are any kind of fuel made from living things, or from the waste they produce
Scots racing driver Dario Franchitti, seen above being congratulated by actress wife Ashley Judd, won America's Indianapolis 500 driving a car powered by pure ethanol made from corn
The Renewables Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) sets a UK target for the use of biofuels for transport at 5% by 2010
The Forestry Commission runs a large number of its vehicles on biofuel blends

Highest yields could be gained in the Highlands because of the long hours of daylight in summer.

Mr Picken said the UK was lagging behind other countries in the production of biofuels.

He said: "America is leading the way with subsidies and tax breaks and they are going to double their usage of maze."

Mr Picken conceded there was a debate on how to balance growing for energy and food, but warned that the production of crops for biofuels was at risk of becoming a "missed opportunity" in Scotland.

He welcomed moves to open bio-diesel plants at Grangemouth, near Falkirk, and Rosyth, near Edinburgh.

Ineos Enterprises' proposal to build one of Europe's biggest bio-diesel plants in Grangemouth was given the go-ahead by Falkirk Council in October.

However, plans by DMF Biodiesel for a processing facility in Rosyth has returned to Fife Council as a live planning application following a legal challenge.

The local authority had previously given its approval.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said farmers growing energy crops may be eligible for a single Common Agricultural Policy payment and also claim EU energy aid payment to a maximum of 45 Euros (32) per hectare.

A spokeswoman said: "UK government see biofuels as part of the renewable energy mix, but wish to ensure that the biofuel supplied in the UK offers carbon benefits and is produced sustainably."

The Scottish Government said it was looking at the role of biofuels in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions.

A spokesman said it had also recently committed 10.2m of investment in biofuel production through Regional Selective Assistance funding for the plant in Grangemouth and another in Motherwell.

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