A RENEWABLE wood energy crop grown on NFU president Mr Ben Gill's farm at Easingwold has been harvested for the first time.

The short rotation coppice was cut with a Claas Jaguar forage harvester using a specially designed header which chips the wood crop.

The woodchip was taken to storage near the new wood-burning power station at Eggborough, near Selby.

It will be used to fuel this environmentally-friendly power station, developed by ARBRE, which supplies enough electricity to power the homes of 33,000 people.

Mr Gill grew the new crop in partnership with ARBRE and he said such initiatives underlined the importance of farming, not just as a traditional food producer but in the development of new technologies such as green energy.

He called on the government to speed up the development of green energy to allow the full potential of these crops to be explored.

The short rotation coppice is a fast-growing variety of willow which can be harvested every three years. It grows to six metres in three years - four metres in the first 12 months - making it a fantastic supply of renewable energy and a fast-growing haven for wildlife.

Mr Keith Pitcher, ARBRE energy director, said he had been pleased with the response from farmers, who had already planted more than 1,100 hectares of energy crops.

"In particular, having Ben Gill as one of our first growers sent an important message to this new industry," he said. "We hope to develop new, scaled-up ARBRE projects as soon as the government's plans for the renewables sector are announced."

For energy crops to be viable, farmers have to grow them on set-aside. However, with uncertainty over the long-term future of set-aside, the NFU is lobbying the EU and the UK government for support for alternative crop uses, including energy crops.

To meet its commitment to produce 10pc of energy from renewable supplies by 2010, the government's Utilities Act 2000 requires electricity suppliers to obtain an increasing percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.

Last month, the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, announced £100m to encourage the development of renewable energy sources