Geoff Wilcox from Penrith diversifies 10% of his land with a “steady and predictable income”

Geoff Wilcox needed sustainability and predictability for the future. With this in mind Geoff and his father decided to learn more about energy crops.

After much research they opted to plant SRC Willow – “our land has been ideal for traditional crops, so why not willow?” says Geoff. “High yield from willow means more revenue. Its that simple. We have chosen to diversify our income and plant around 10% of our farm with willow, which will become a reliable revenue stream, just like dairy in the old days. Steady and predictable.”

Geoff refers to the days of the Milk Marketing Board (MMB) back in the 1980s and 1990s, which supported good returns from dairy farming. “From the 1930s for almost sixty years 30000 dairy farmers in the UK made a good honest living, in today’s open market prices have been driven down. The stability associated with dairy is gone. It was hard work, but it paid off for us and many others. Now it’s hard work for little return. We need sustainability, that’s why willow is part of our new thinking and you only need to plant it once in 22 years”. A reliable method of harvesting even with the Cumbrian weather was also an important factor in the decision. Jamie Rickerby. Speaks about innovations in equipment for harvesting, “Willow planting requires an understanding of the soil and terrain in our region. Existing equipment, like the modified Claas forage harvester, does well now. We are also exploring entirely new inventions to increase yield. This way willow stands the best chance to produce high value for farmers and high yield for Iggesund, who contracts with farmers to use the crop as renewable fuel for heat and electricity.” Rickerbys is one of the partnering harvesting teams.

The rows are planted in a twin row design with 150cm gap between double rows and 75cm within rows, then another 150cm. This allows the machinery to straddle the crop.

Rickerby’s partnership with SRC Willow
Comments Jamie Rickerby, “After meeting with Iggesund early on in the research stage of the SRC Willow program it become apparent that this crop had a lot of potential to help local farmers and landowners guarantee and diversify part of their land and income. And increase productivity on marginal land has huge wildlife and biodiversity benefits.” We could see that locally grown Willow for biomass being supplied to a 50MW CHP power plant on our doorstep for the next 25 year plus had a lot of merits. With that we set up a partnership with Iggesund to help develop, build and run machinery for planting, maintaining and harvesting SRC Willow that are specially designed to cope with the weather conditions and environment that we have in Northern England and Southern Scotland ensuring the long-term environmental value of the crop goes from strength to strength for many years to come.