By Gemma Childe on 7th Jun 2012
The farming industry is being transformed by renewable energy, with more than a quarter of farms now generating green power, according to research.
Such has been the growth in installations of wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy sources on farmland, that power generation is on course to overtake tourism as the secondary income of the agriculture sector, the study by the National Farmers' Union and NatWest bank found.
Clean energy produced on farms can already power 40,000 homes, and if growth continues at the current rate, up to 15 per cent of Britain's renewable energy will be generated on the land, it is estimated.
"The NFU has been encouraging farmers and growers nationwide across all sectors to diversify into renewable energy for the past few years, but we are amazed at this level of uptake already," said Jonathan Scurlock, the chief renewable energy adviser to the NFU.
"The potential of land-based renewable energy to support profitable farming, while contributing to energy security and the low-carbon economy, is evidently much greater than we ever imagined."
Despite the promising figures, many farmers still face problems in obtaining planning permission and investment for renewable installations, the researchers discovered.
NatWest said it was striving to do as much as it could help the sector.
Ian Burrow, the head of agriculture and renewable energy at the bank, said: "We've already taken steps to help those businesses that see access to finance as a barrier. We've ensured our agriculture managers are better placed to help through our accreditation programme."
Caroline Knox, a wheat and pea farmer on the Isle of Wight who has capacity to generate 1.6MW of green power from solar array in one of her fields, added: "I would encourage as many as possible to pursue this if they have the land in the right place and access to [electrical] grid connections. It is definitely a great add-on for the farming industry."