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Poplars - a multiple-use crop for European arable farmers

Contract nr: FAIR-CT98-4193
Project nr: 4193
Project type: SC
Starting date: 01/04/1999
Duration: 33 months
Total cost: 1,305,779 EUR
EC Contribution: 846,000 EUR
Scientific Officer: Jean-Pierre PIGEOLET
Research topic: Biomass production (food, feed, non-food and energy uses)

In a time of European food surpluses, problems of rural unemployment and crises in certain sectors of the agricultural industry, it is increasingly important that economically viable non-food crops are found to assist in the diversification of agriculture. CAP reforms proposed under Agenda 2000 are likely to result in a much-reduced area of 'set-aside' land, and the utilisation of much of this in the production of alternative crops will prevent a return to the huge agricultural surpluses of the 1980's. Poplars probably offer one of the best opportunities to produce a crop that can be economically viable, whilst having generally positive effects on the environment - another important criterion. The recent EC-funded Poplar for Farmers project has confirmed this potential, but the bio-economic models developed within that project require further testing. That project also focused principally on countries that already have established poplar industries, such as Belgium, Italy and France.

The PAMUCEAF project expands the earlier work into areas with less well developed poplar growing expertise (whilst retaining specialist expertise from Belgium) and includes countries to the north and east, with large areas of farmland that might be exploited.

The work on identification of suitable areas undertaken by Poplars for Farmers is being greatly developed using geographical information systems. There are, of course, some objections to the expansion of poplar production. Generally these objections are founded on concerns about the impacts on landscapes and on water resources. These aspects, and the impact of poplar on biodiversity, are being objectively researched by the PAMUCEAF project. Markets for poplars are numerous and the flexibility of the crop means that there is a vast array of minor or potential products that utilise poplar wood or fibre. Exploitation of these products should result in considerable benefits for rural industries, as well as having a positive effect on EC trade balances. The PAMUCEAF project, involving a recognised multi-disciplinary team of experts from across Europe, examines all of the above aspects, as well as the potential for close integration with farm businesses, maximising the use of available labour, skills and equipment.

The work is organised into seven Tasks:
1) coordination;
2) products and markets;
3) agriculture, silviculture and economics;
4) geographical information;
5) environment - water and soils;
6) environment - ecology and landscapes;
7) farmer and public attitudes.

Current situation/results:
Work completed so far, during the first year of the PAMUCEAF project, has included the development of GIS-based maps of `suitable' and `highly suitable' areas within Europe for poplar production, using soils, climate and topographical data. These maps are now being further refined, using additional and more detailed national datasets.
Detailed data on water relations and nutrient cycling in poplar plantations has been collected from ongoing experiments at sites in Belgium, England and Sweden. Studies at all three sites build upon previous research of relevance to PAMUCEAF and the research at the Balegem site in Belgium is a continuation of work undertaken for the Poplars for Farmers project.
Another aspect of Poplars for Farmers that is being further developed within PAMUCEAF is the economic modeling of poplar production systems. Work completed so far has focused mainly on building a farm business model, which incorporates various poplar cropping systems, including short rotation coppice energy crops, which were not considered by the Poplars for Farmers project.
Data on national and EU forestry and wood utilisation statistics have been compiled - enabling current European poplar production to be put into context.
Much effort has also gone into the preparation of detailed protocols and the selection of suitable sites for work scheduled for later in the project - including the field surveys of ecology, landscape and soils - and questionnaires carefully designed for postal surveys of farmers and poplar growers.

Christopher Paul BRITT
ADAS Consulting Ltd
MAFF Drayton
Alcester Road
UK-CV37 9RQ Warwickshire
Tel.: +44 1789 29 30 57
Fax: +44 1789 41 43 93


  • Tom KENT
    Waterford Institute of Technology
    Forestry Section
    Department of Chemical and Life Science
    Cork Road
    Tel.: +353 51 30 26 46
    Fax: +353 51 30 26 79

    Instituut voor Bosbouw en Wildbeheer
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    Gaverstraat 4
    B-9500 Geraardsbergen
    Tel.: +32 5 443 71 11
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    University of Nicolaus Copernicus, Torun
    Research Centre for Applied Biology
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    Tel.: +48 56 611 4449
    Fax: +48 56 611 4449

  • Terence Henry THOMAS
    University of Wales
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    UK-LL57 2UW Bangor
    Tel.: +44 1248 38 22 87
    Fax: +44 1248 35 49 97

  • Joris VAN ACKER
    Universiteit Gent
    Laboratory of Wood Technology
    Coupure Links 653
    B-9000 Gent
    Tel.: +32 9 264 61 24
    Fax: +32 9 264 62 33

    Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
    Department of Short Rotation Forestry
    PO Box 7016
    S-750 07 Uppsala
    Tel.: +46 18 67 25 54
    Fax: +46 18 67 34 40
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