November saw the passing of 12 years since the birth of Terravesta, a business dedicated to Miscanthus, connecting growers to a market – “a business with customers at both ends.” Today our commitment to this function remains total.
Driven by a passion that land managers hold a key to delivering a future that can sustain humankind on our planet, and the understanding that by endangering other life forms, we also threaten the future of our own species, there is an agenda of two levels. Fundamentally it is about non-exploitation of our planet’s historic and current resources and living within the sustainable production capabilities of our lands. The principle of depletion of resources is hard to justifiably argue against.
Additionally, we have an important role in carbon, CO2 and CO2e emissions reduction; firstly, through low/zero emission farm operations, secondly, through storing carbon in our land and thirdly through the supply of zero or negative carbon products and services. For the most part, the two agendas go hand in hand, the main difference being that the fundamental of non-exploitation is arguably a long-term matter of common sense, while emissions reduction is far more urgent and therefore politically controversial.
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we have exploited largely (fossilised) plant-based products in our textiles, paints and coatings, dyes, platform chemicals, and more – in addition to energy. It has therefore been with great excitement that Terravesta has been associated in some way or other with programmes for the development of technologies that can deliver all of the products we have come to rely on using non-fossilised plant product feedstocks and to see these new industries recognised by policymakers and advisors, such as DeSNZ and the Climate Change Committee in their annual reviews. This high level of commitment has manifested generous new funding for new projects to research the best delivery of the targets, including Terravesta-led OMENZ, about optimising Miscanthus establishment (DesNZ Biomass Feedstock Innovation programme), CHCx3 – Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping (DeFRA Farming Futures R&D Fund), Biomass Connect, and (starting its third round of funding) Supergen Bioenergy Hub. All of these show real British leadership in this area and draw serious industrial enquiries for more biomass feedstocks.
The obstacle is the age-old question of what comes first – the chicken or the egg? No feedstocks, no backing to invest in feedstock-intensive industrial processes; no industrial process market, and no incentive to plant feedstocks. So frustrating when the prize of leadership in such a globally important and dynamic economic sector lies on the other side!
However, there is a way through. Carbon (the second part of my above-mentioned two-level agenda) provides the potential of a third dimension. The emergence of a carbon market that sees land managers truly rewarded for their ability to store carbon, while also delivering biomass material, would lift the barrier to growing perennial biomass crops. There is still some way to go in terms of agreeing on recognised standards and understanding sequestration patterns, as with all other agricultural enterprises, but if the last ten years have been about understanding low-carbon products and processes, the next decade will be about understanding and driving carbon storage.
“But haven’t we still got to eat?” I hear you cry. Of course, and although my farming system has changed quite radically, my own farm produces more food today than it did before my foray into Miscanthus back in 2005. However, with a growing global population, the need to adapt to the effects of climate change, the diet-related burden on our health systems and services and appalling levels of food waste, it is incumbent on each of us to address this aspect of our lives too. So as you peruse the supermarket shelves preparing for the Christmas period with a siege mentality and succumbing to the multi-buys, “Eat, Drink and be Merry!” But eat less, waist less and waste less?