Pig farm fears over straw plant plans

OBJECTORS to plans to build a straw-powered energy plant at Mendlesham have raised fears it may have “dire repercussions” for the local livestock industry.

Eco2 wants to build a �100million straw-powered energy plant off the A140 at Mendlesham industrial estate, near Stowmarket.

Simon Cairns, director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, warned it could push up the price of straw, causing a knock-on effect on the livestock industry.

“This could have really dire repercussions for livestock, not only in Suffolk, but potentially nationally,” he said. “Pigs are big business here and we want to see a living and working countryside.”

But Eco2’s director of projects Andrew Toft said the plant, which would create 80 permanent jobs and 200 during construction, denied it would adversely affect livestock businesses.

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“Our aim is to increase the amount of straw that is traded in Suffolk. This adds value, creates jobs and contributes to Suffolk’s sustainable credentials, aligning perfectly with the ambition of ‘Creating the Greenest County’. We think this is exactly the sort of project that Suffolk Preservation Society should be championing,” he said.

Mr Cairns claimed the scheme was “economically and environmentally flawed”.

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“The plant would consume 250,000 tonnes per annum” he said. “The market value of straw has been rising consistently in recent years. The livestock industry, especially pigs, poultry and dairy are heavy users of straw. The East of England supplies the West Country dairy industry with straw as their climate is too wet for cereal growing. The muck arising from the livestock industry is very important as an organic fertiliser and soil conditioner.”

He added: “The very small number of jobs created in the plant could be massively offset by jobs lost in the livestock industry and the associated supply chain.”

But Dr Toft said wheat straw was only a commodity if there was demand for it.

“That is why only part of the wheat straw produced in the UK is baled. The rest has no market. Eco2’s ambition is to increase the proportion of straw that is baled by increasing the base load demand for it. More of one of Suffolk’s natural resources will be utilised and we think that is a good thing.

“It is not in our interests to increase demand without increasing supply.”

In common with all straw consumers, Eco2 had “no wish” to create shortages that inevitably push up prices,” he said.

“We offer lengthy supply contracts with a long lead time and consistent, predictable demand. There is no reason whatsoever why Mendlesham Renewable Energy Plant will disrupt existing straw supplies. The market can and will adapt,” he said.

“Our ash is recycled into agricultural markets and there is therefore no net increase in the use of fertilisers. Many years ago nobody thought twice about burning stubble which managed straw whilst retaining the nutrients in the ash. In essence we do the same thing but in a clean and efficient way that also produces electricity.

He added of the scheme: “Some of the key benefits of the projects include secure contracts for straw, which are expected to inject over �8million per year into the local economy. The project itself represents an investment of over �100m.

Dave Finkel, a rural TV presenter and pig farm manager at Jimmy’s Farm near Ipswich, said his personal view was that it could have a “devastating effect” on prices.

“Straw is one of my very large overheads,” he said. “As pig farms have such tiny margins it could have a detrimental effect for the Suffolk and Norfolk pig industry.”He added: “I’m strongly against it because they’l be able to blow the livestock farmer out of the water when it comes ot offering money for stacks of straw.”

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