Though the government’s sending mixed messages about on-farm AD, there are at least a few facilities up and running in the UK. Leonie Butler visited Kemble Farms in Gloucestershire to get to grips with a powerful tin cow
In 2007, with dairy farmers struggling in times of fluctuating milk prices, Kemble Farm owner, Colin Rank, struck upon the idea of building an anaerobic digester to power the farm from the readily available slurry and provide himself with a secondary income. With the bit between his teeth, he hopped over to Germany to see how small-scale systems were being run over there, sold a couple of houses on his land – the farm being asset rich, and cash poor – got a 32 per cent grant from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and, within a year, had a brand new anaerobic digestion (AD) plant running on the farm.
Seven years later, the farm is now owned by the Bathurst Estate, there’s a dedicated manager for the AD plant, and it’s become a place others flock to, to see how it’s done.
I’m shown around the plant by AD Manager Miles Bishop and, speaking to him, you’d think he’d been studying the technology for years. It turns out he’s learned on the job, after years in farming generally and running the grain stores, to which he “draw[s] parallels with the biogas plant because it’s all about moving things around”. He admits, however, it hasn’t all been plain sailing: “I won’t lie, it’s been a steep learning curve. If there’s a silver lining on break downs it’s that the more you have, the more you take things apart and fix them, the more you understand how it works and what the relationship is between various parts.”