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Scottish farmers body calls for rethink over distillery biomass plants

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (SFTA) is repeating its warning to the UK government that the "headlong drive to produce renewable energy from by-products of the distilling industry through anaerobic digesters and biomass plants will cause severe damage to the beef industry".

The supply of distillery by-products, draff, pot ale syrup and dark grains, which beef and many sheep systems in marginal areas have relied on for decades as a reliable source of GM free protein, is now at risk.

The proliferation of anaerobic digestion (AD) and biomass plants over the last few years severely limits the supply of this feed source as distilleries divert their by-products towards renewable energy, encouraged by significant financial incentives from government.

Draff has doubled in price and is in short supply and dark grains, which are a staple ingredient of most compound feeds, now have to be hauled from the central belt and there are doubts as to how long this source will be available.

North-east livestock farmer and STFA spokesperson on the environment, Alastair Nairn said: “It is not just local farmers who will miss sourcing home grown protein for their livestock on their doorstep, but this is now setting alarm bells ringing amongst the animal feed industry. The issue was discussed at yesterday’s meeting of the Agriculture and Climate Change Stakeholder Group where our concerns were shared by representatives of the feed industry.

“Unfortunately we are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is more than five years since we highlighted the value of distillery by-products and warned the government of the damage that would be caused if supply became restricted.

“In 2012, a government commissioned report by SRUC predicted that the expansion of whisky production would ensure a plentiful supply of draff and dark grains. This has proved to be wildly inaccurate. The explosion of AD and biomass over the last few years has all but decimated the supply of draff locally and dark grains now have to be hauled from the central belt.

“The growth of AD plants has created its own problems with a vast quantity of digestate (waste from the AD process) now having to be spread on grassland. As yet, farmers have no real idea of the long-term implications of spreading this waste and how it will effect the chemical composition of soils, trace elements and available nutrients.”

In a statement, STFA said that it supported the principles behind the Scottish Governments Climate Change Plan and its attempts to create a circular economy making use of anaerobic digestion and other methods to reduce emissions and turn waste products into renewable energy. However, it maintained that controlling emissions should not be looked at in isolation and there must be a proper assessment of the impact that this policy may have on livestock farming and the knock-on effect on the environment and rural communities.