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    Andy Laidlaw.

Carbon-neutral options on table

BY DYLAN DE JONG  

A Wimmera farmer believes the introduction of an Australia-first $200-million bioenergy project will be a major step forward for regional farmers to achieve carbon-neutral farming operations. 

Langi-Logan farmer Andy Laidlaw, who runs a broadacre cropping operation south of Ararat, was among regional grain producers who met with project leaders to discuss partnership options for a Grampians Gas plant proposal at Ararat.

The Pacific Heat and Power and Ararat Rural City Council concept will use district straw and stubble to create energy. It involves transforming the agricultural waste into one or multiple renewable-power sources. 



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Company managing director Dr Scott Grierson met with farmers and regional leaders yesterday to assess the rural city’s potential of becoming the benchmark for large-scale agricultural bio-energy production.

Initial modelling from the company had shown strong potential for the project to support jobs and provide additional revenue for farmers. 

Mr Laidlaw said the project represented a major value-adding opportunity for the region’s agriculture sector while reducing the industry’s carbon footprint.  

“Boosting employment for the region as well as being environmentally sustainable with renewable energy on that scale can only be good for our region,” he said. 

“All producers, no matter how big or small they are could contribute waste to this type of facility.” 

Farmers from across western Victoria including Ararat, Horsham and Nhill have committed more than 58,000 tonnes of straw and stubble via an expression-of-interest process.

Mr Laidlaw said a major benefit for primary producers harvesting straw and stubble for this project was moving away from a need to burn stubble. 

“The big advantage with no stubble burning in the long-term is improvement of soil health as well as taking away that risk of bushfire,” he said. 

“By removing the burning we can also improve the timing in our operations so we can sow earlier.” 

Farming and manufacturing were among key sectors named in the Federal Government’s renewed push to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement ahead of a global summit last week.

Mr Laidlaw said the prospects of a bioenergy facility in Ararat would help farmers realise the government’s targets. 

“We’ve got to progress as much as we can to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly in the long term,” he said. 

“This project is pushing towards what could be a great thing for the whole country – it certainly helps the agriculture industry push closer to becoming carbon-neutral.”

Cost concern

Mr Laidlaw said he was, however, concerned with costs involved in harvesting and transporting straw and stubble. 

“We’ll have to windrow it, bail it, then cart it off to the power plant. There could potentially be quite a lot of work and costs involved in it,” he said.

“Ultimately, we don’t want to be working for nothing. That might be the hardest part of the project. 

“The scale of operation they’re talking about could also mean a lot of trucks on the road transporting the straw and stubble to the site.” 

Project leaders have highlighted the concept was still in its infancy.

Dr Grierson said public forums such as yesterday’s meeting with key stakeholders would be a key way forward to bring the project to life.

He said there were ways around costs involved in travel and harvest costs of straw and stubble.  

“If a farmer doesn’t want those hassles, we can contract people in to do that job,” he said. 

“The challenge all round is how you manage a project of this nature for the benefit of everyone. 

“The reality is at some point in the conceivable future we will get back into lean times – we need to build a system that can benefit farmers year in, year out.” 

Dr Grierson said people could find out more about the project and register an expression of interest to supply cereal straw online at www.grampiansgas.com.au.

The entire April 28, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser and AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!