SUN, wind and manure look set to be the answer to local dairy farmer Richard Park’s quest for energy self-sufficiency at Low Sizergh Farm near Kendal.

“Historically, sources of power were the main driver for human settlement,” said Richard. “The River Kent had many industries using its water to power equipment and rural communities often had a corn mill.

“Coal then fuelled the Industrial Revolution and now oil underpins modern society - with its global conflicts, fluctuating prices that largely trend upward and negative environmental impacts.

“The cost of energy for both our farm business and our farm shop, Low Sizergh Barn, is continuing to rise. As society moves to renewable energy, we are looking to see where initial investments are most likely to pay off.”

Careful analysis needs to include depreciation, running costs, reliability, suitability, sustainability and the business’s ability to manage any system it decides on.

“Most of us have lost sight of our dependence on plants’ ability to convert sunlight into edible forms of energy through photosynthesis. We need to be careful not to increase output through heavy use of resources such as fuel, machinery and fertilisers because, as well as risking damage to water, soils and eco-systems, we could reach a point where we’re using more energy than is provided by the food we’re producing.

“Our decision-making uses holistic management and one of the steps is ‘gut feel’, which led us to solar as the best option.”

A report by Lancaster University PhD students confirmed that. Hydro seemed like a good fit for Cumbria’s climate, but the cost and environmental impact of using water from a salmon river ruled it out. Richard added that, while wind power has a high visual impact on a large scale, a small-scale project might supplement other methods.

“Even though we make good use of our cows’ manure, we could run it through an anaerobic digester (AD) to generate electricity from the gas released and improve the plant food applied back to the pasture. Unfortunately, the build and running costs are high, the output disproportionate, and we only have six months of manure as the cows graze outside.”

Financially, solar is the most attractive with PV panels on the farm’s modern livestock buildings and in the fields, with stock grazing underneath if necessary. Storing energy for times when the panels are not generating power is a limitation, but Richard expects technology to improve quickly.

He added: “In the future, we’re likely to employ a combination of solar, wind and AD technologies to avoid having all our eggs in one basket.

“We’ll look at ways of storing energy and saving costs as part of our move towards self-sufficiency - along with electric tractors, improved cow genetics and making better use of forage grown on the farm with no external inputs.

“We may get to an energy surplus, which could then be used by visitors to charge

their cars or be exported back to the grid.”