Making hedgerows pay their way: the economics of harvesting field boundary hedges for bioenergy

Existing landscape features, such as field boundary hedgerows, can contribute to food, fodder, material, and energy production for an EU bio-based circular economy. Recent trials undertaken by the project team in the UK demonstrated that hedgerows can be managed to produce woodfuel of a quality that meets industry standards. However, to be attractive to farmers, woodfuel production from hedgerows must be profitable. This paper uses the FarmSAFE model to undertake a financial assessment with data generated from these trials. The net present value of a standard hedgerow management method (flailing every 2 years) was compared with those from alternative hedgerow management scenarios for woodfuel production over a 60 year time horizon.

Using data from the hedgerow trials, the results showed that coppicing hedgerows for woodfuel production could provide a profit to the farmer. The sale of woodchips into an off-farm market was found to be profitable if harvesting with tree shears (medium scale harvesting capacity) or a Bracke felling head (large scale harvesting capacity), but chainsaw harvesting (small scale harvesting capacity) was unprofitable. When considering the use of woodchips on farm to replace purchased woodchip or heating oil, the financial benefit to the farmer increased.

Sensitivity analyses showed that the use of medium scale machinery (tree shears) made the hedgerow enterprise most resilient to changes in prices, grants, and costs. This scale of machinery is appropriate for local energy production whilst also being affordable to farmers and local contractors.

Research Publications

Theme: food systems, agroforestry
Published: 17th April 2021
Author: Jo Smith, Sally Westaway, Samantha Mullender, Michail Giannitsopoulos & Anil Graves