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Agriculture: Recycled Plant Matter

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proportion of the stalks, leaves and roots of food crops grown commercially in the United Kingdom are recycled for (a) composting; (b) biogas; (c) biomass; and (d) use in coal-fired power stations; and where the remainder goes. [HL4744]

A small amount of cereal straw is composted for use by the mushroom industry, but very little other agricultural plant material is composted. Most of the biogas plants in the UK are fuelled by animal manures and waste from the food processing chain, rather than crop residues.

Around 9 per cent of the sugar beet crop (around 650,000 tonnes a year) is used in the production of transport biofuels. Around 2 per cent of cereal straw (around 200,000 tonnes) is used to generate electricity in dedicated biomass power stations. Around 200,000 tonnes of agricultural residues (including cereal straw), wastes and energy crops, are used to generate heat. Around 2.3 million tonnes of a wide range of woody biomass and biomass wastes (including forestry residues, paper industry waste and imported plant wastes), are co-fired with coal.

The vast majority of the remaining residues from crop and horticultural production are either returned to the soil to help build soil organic matter content and provide nutrients for following crops, or are used as animal feed or bedding, which is then recycled to land.