Production pathways for profitability and valuing ecosystem services for willow coppice in intensive agricultural applications

David Livingstone, Beatrice M. Smyth, Erin Sherry, Simon T. Murray, Aoife M. Foley, Gary A. Lyons, Christopher R. Johnston

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Increasing agricultural sustainability is a key challenge facing the globe today. Energy crops, planted as riparian buffers are one way to support this, simultaneously mitigating water quality degradation and climate change. However, the economics of implementing such riparian buffer systems is under researched. Hence this work conducted a bottom-up economic analysis of willow coppice riparian buffers on a Northern Irish dairy farm, which is indicative of agricultural intensification across Europe. This work includes an economic assessment of a willow coppice riparian buffer strip, using harvested yield data from an established willow buffer site for the first time. It also considered the impact of harvesting technology on the economic performance of a willow coppice riparian buffer strip for the first time. The analysis considered three willow production pathways: 1) direct chip harvesting, 2) full-stem harvesting, and 3) a scenario with a guaranteed purchasing contract for fresh chip. Economic performance was considered using net present value over a 25-year plantation lifetime. The full-stem scenario provided the highest economic return over its lifetime with an average yearly net present value of £497 ha−1 (in £ sterling). This system was then considered for integration into a typical dairy farm, assuming 5 % land usage and including government grants for establishing riparian zones. The result was a drop in value of £28 ha1 yr−1 compared to a dairy-only scenario; however, per litre of milk the farm employing willow coppice riparian buffer strips outperformed a typical dairy farm both environmentally and economically. Further analysis considered a novel approach that included payments for ecosystem services in the economic analysis. This analysis found that the implementation of government payments for ecosystem services (nutrient removal) increased the economic return of the willow coppice riparian buffer system by £400 ha−1 yr−1, resulting in minimal impact on the return from dairy land.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-291
Number of pages11
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Early online date23 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • SRC Willow
  • Bioenergy
  • Dairy
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Economics
  • Ecosystem services


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