Sowing the seeds of success

Hartlepool farmer John Littlefair pictured in a rape seed field
Hartlepool farmer John Littlefair pictured in a rape seed field

BIOFUEL bigwigs have declared the Tees Valley as the hub of the UK market.

 But they say they need more support to get the full benefits of an industry which is looking in its best shape for 15 years thanks to the high price of raw products.

John Seymour

John Seymour

 One campaigner took a swipe at “well-heeled southerners” who he accused of delaying progress in the development of the industry.

 A meeting was held in London last week with most of the leading players in the biofuels market there.

 One of them was John Seymour, who is the rural affairs spokesman for the Northeast Biofuels organisation.

 Mr Seymour said: “The UK Government recognises Teesside as the primary biofuels hub in the UK.”

 It already has a grain bio-refinery at Wilton and a strong core of farmers who were producing raw products like oilseed rape to convert into the likes of biodiesel fuel for vehicles.

 But Mr Seymour said there was a move by non-Government organisations to put a hold on development when the industry wanted the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive to be pushed ahead.

 That directive calls for the UK to reach a target of 15 per cent of energy to be produced from renewable sources by 2020.

 Mr Seymour said: “The actual facts and science is with us in Teesside’s biofuel industry.”

 But he said red tape from “well-healed southerners” was holding up progress.

 He laid the blame at groups which were against the development of renewable energy.

 He accused them of having no idea of the potential harm they were doing to employment prospects by not giving the clear lead for the industry to press ahead with plans.

 Despite that, he remained undaunted and said: “We must continue to lobby strongly that our industry can make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increase the UK’s energy and food security and of course, that the best place to do this in the UK, is here in the North East.”

 One biofuels farmer is Hart Village businessman John Littlefair, who has 80 acres of oilseed rape among his 450-acres.

 He is also the National Farmers Union county treasurer, and a former NFU national vice chairman in technical services.

 He said: “The way the price of oilseed rape has gone, it could not be better. The rate to farmers for the first time in 15 years is looking quite attractive. I do hope that will continue.”

 The downside for him was the weather, which had been mostly too dry and had caused the pods on the oilseed rape not to fill in the way they are supposed to, meaning a delay to his crop being ready.

 But he said a strong biofuels market was important because it meant farmers had more leeway to invest in their businesses or to build up reserves.

 He said the very nature of farming meant there would probably be a cluster of good years followed by five to six bad ones, which meant it was important to take advantage of the prosperous times.