By Charlotte Webster
– 95 per cent of farmers and landowners believe renewable energy will be vital to the future of farming in the UK
– 42 per cent of farmers and landowners are confused about renewable energy options
For many farmers and landowners renewable energy is a must-have, not an optional extra. It offers an opportunity to diversify and increase income as well as cut costs. In fact, recent research from RenewableUK found that farmers who invest in renewables earn between £12,000 and £50,000 more each year.
Similarly, with 75 per cent of UK land area in the agriculture sector, farms have an increasingly important role to play in the UK’s future energy infrastructure. But despite efforts to help farmers and landowners enter into renewables, farms are not yet realising their full potential.
Organisations like Forum for the Future have started investigating this issue. Working with Farmers Weekly and Nottingham Trent University, it has launched a new initiative to outline the role farms and rural communities should play in the energy system. The Farm as Power Station project aims to create a better understanding of the barriers and incentives for farm-based renewables, helping farmers and rural communities fulfil their role in the energy system.
The Soil Association is also actively supporting farmers in understanding how to reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions. Its Low Carbon Farmingproject provides farmers with advice and technical guidance on low carbon farm management and energy production.
However, there is also an immediate communications challenge emerging and this must be addressed directly by renewable energy companies and service providers. Ultimately, farmers and landowners aren’t receiving the information they need to understand and make a choice on renewables. Whether it is on wind, solar, biomass, AD or geothermal, many remained confused about the options available and how to capitalise on them.
We surveyed 130 farmers and landowners to find out directly how this issue can be addressed. We wanted to know what information they need to make investing in renewables simpler and how this should be provided.
Our respondents fell into three groups: Converts, those who have already invested in renewables, understand the benefits and are likely to invest again; Believers, those currently considering investing but haven’t decided whether or not they definitely will; and Latecomers, those who haven’t considered investing at all.
Overall, the research revealed a growing need for better, more targeted communications across all three audiences. Each group has its own specific needs when it comes to messaging, content, and delivery and a single, broad brushed approach won’t cut it. To realise the sales opportunities each group offers, renewables companies must improve how they talk.
The full report ‘How to talk so farmers and landowners listen’ outlines the information needs of all three groups, providing recommendations on how to communicate effectively with each – what to say, how to say it and where to say it. It provides the insight marketers need to design campaigns that get this balance right to deliver sales and enable easier investment.
The countryside plays a crucial role in the UK’s decentralised and clean energy future. But only by addressing the current confusion around renewables will greater investment from farmers and landowners be secured. Overcoming this barrier holds huge potential for farmers, landowners, renewable energy companies and the wider green economy. But to realise this potential, businesses must get their communications right. Downloading the report ‘How to talk so farmers and landowners listen’ and infographic is the first step to making this happen.
Charlotte is head of clean technology at CCgroup, having joined them in June 2012. Former PR Manager at Solarcentury, Charlotte has over eight years’ Clean Technology and sustainable business PR experience. Charlotte co-launched SolarAid, a charity that aims to replace kerosene lamps with solar alternatives in developing countries. She holds a BSc. in Geographical Sciences from the University of Bristol and has trained in PR, journalism and documentary production.