Sir Jim breaks his silence over the spread of solar farms on prime fen farmland

09:36 26 June 2014

MP Sir Jim Paice

MP Sir Jim Paice

Archant

Sir Jim Paice has spoken out for the first time about his concern over the loss of prime agricultural land in South East Cambridgeshire and the surrounding fens in favour of solar farms and anaerobic digestors.

The former Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said its “absurd” that prime farmland was being used to meet bio energy targets and said that the best place for solar farms was on brownfield land.

Sir Jim’s comments came as he chaired a panel of government and industry leaders who met to discuss how the UK is going to meet the future demands on its agricultural land this week.

The event saw the launch of the report, The Best Use of UK Agricultural Land, which was produced in collaboration with Asda, Sainsbury’s, Nestlé, AB Agri, Volac as well as the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association.

The report warns that, by 2030, the UK could require up to seven million hectares of additional land to meet a growing population’s food, space and renewable energy needs, while increasing the area needed to protect nature and its services.

Sir Jim said: “In my view, it is absurd that we use arable land to meet bioenergy targets under the DECC 2050 Pathways analysis.”

“In my constituency, prime grades 1 and 2 arable land is growing maize after maize; bad for biodiversity, bad for soils and bad for food production. I don’t hear the anti-meat brigade criticising this, yet all an AD plant is is a giant rumen and if feeding grain to cattle is inefficient what about using it in AD?”

“Solar farms are also leading to a loss of prime agricultural land, with the Department for Energy and Climate Change aiming for solar power to supply about 15 per cent of green electricity needs by 2020.

“In my view, solar farms should instead be set up on top of large, empty rooftops in industrial estates or on plots of unproductive brownfield land.”

“There are no prizes in politics for saying ‘I told you so’, but this report says everything that I would expect, and I wish it had been available to me when I was in the Government.

“It should be a wake-up call to all politicians that we cannot take our land or our food for granted.

“We have all grown up with our mouths full, and only those over 70 can remember any real shortages of food. For most of us it has been a life of increasing choice in a competitive market keeping price rises in check and for much of the time at below the inflation rate.”

The report focuses on the competing demands for land, and the need for Government departments and industry to work together to form a coherent and long-term strategy in order to optimise UK land use.

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