Imagining biofuels: building agricultural supply chains in the UK: a comparison of UK policy expectations with on-farm perspectives

Helliwell, Richard (2017) Imagining biofuels: building agricultural supply chains in the UK: a comparison of UK policy expectations with on-farm perspectives. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis aims to drawn on theoretical insights from science and technology studies and rural studies literatures to interrogate the potential agricultural system and on-farm changes required for developing lignocellulosic biofuel supply chains in the UK. Previous work has largely examined first generation, food based biofuels, with limited focus on the prospects for lignocellulosic technologies. Likewise policy identifies a number of challenges for lignocellulosic biofuels, commercial, technical, and sustainability, that require policy solutions. However, biofuels straddle the agricultural-energy sectors. The deployment of these technologies will demand the adoption of certain practices and crops by farmers, as well as broader changes to agricultural systems. These important components for delivering lignocellulosic biofuels require examination which has so far been limited.

Using semi-structured interviews alongside documentary analysis I identify the ways in which policy constructs and imagines the interface between lignocellulosic biofuels and agriculture, before interrogating these tacit assumptions through comparison with perspectives from farmers, agricultural intermediaries and industry representatives. A key finding is that through knowing farmers and agricultural systems with modelling alone, important avenues for producing and procuring biomass for use in lignocellulosic biofuel production are obscured, whereas significant barriers are presented as readily negotiable.

This thesis argues the following points. Firstly, there is an emerging disjuncture between biofuel imaginaries and agricultural imaginaries. This is particularly apparent as food security concerns re-emerge and Common Agricultural Policy moves towards embedding types of multifunctional arable production which both exclude dedicated non-food energy cropping. Secondly, policy understands farmers as rational economic decision makers influenced by price, ignoring entrenched on farm practices, technologies, values and farmer decision making which are difficult to untangle. These factors can create resistance to increasing straw baling, or the cultivation of dedicated energy crops. Fourthly, marginal land and straw are material heterogeneous resources not the fungible commodities imagined in policy. This materiality shapes how land and biomass is and can be used. Foregrounding these considerations identifies oil seed rape straw as a potentially large, but challenging opportunity. Finally, agricultural intermediaries are a crucial link in biomass supply chains but have been entirely ignored in policy. Contractors and merchants undertake in-field operations, own large scale machinery and manage inter-relationships between farmers and end users. Agronomists are important land management advisors and involved in the soft sell of new technologies and practices. Neither groups are addressed in policy and require active enlistment in lignocellulosic developments.

These insights highlight the following: a need for policy makers to forge better linkages between biofuel, bioenergy and agricultural policy domains; the incorporation of qualitative insights into policy understandings of on-farm decision making, practices, biomass materials and farmer values; the engagement with a wider range of agricultural actors to better deliver desired agricultural change.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Raman, Sujatha
Seymour, Susanne M.
Mohr, Alison
Wilson, Paul
Keywords: Biofuels, Farmer decision making, agriculture, policy analysis
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 39142
Depositing User: Helliwell, Richard
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 16 Oct 2017 04:11

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