The growth of the biofuels industry in Britain may have the potential to turn the country into a net importer of wheat for the first time in its history, according to the British National Farmers’ Union

The farm lobby estimates that 13.9 million tonnes of wheat (about 14.9 million United States tons) will be produced in 2009 — 3.4 million tonnes lower than 2008, because of decreased yields and lower plantings.

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Meanwhile, two new biofuel projects are set to consume 2.3 million tonnes of British wheat next year.

If these trends continue, the lobby noted last week, it could bring to an end to Britain’s self sufficiency in wheat.

”In a poor harvest, Britain may need to meet domestic demand by shipping in extra supplies from other producers such as Canada or France,” Ian Blackhouse, the chairman of the National Farmers’ Union’s combinable crops board, was quoted as saying in an interview with The Times of London last week.

The farming lobby has generally welcomed the news, which should help support grain prices and see improvements in Britain’s farming sector.

But not everyone viewed the development as a positive sign.

Commenting at his blog, Madsen Pirie, the president of the Adam Smith Institute, Britain’s leading free-market economic and social think tank, said:

Of all the insanities committed in the name of green politics, one of the most insane is the production of biofuels from food crops. In pursuit of increased proportion of energy from renewable sources, governments have realized that wind and solar power cannot make sufficiently large contributions. They have therefore turned to biofuels, a move that hugely delights their farming lobbies.

One $400 million dollar biofuel plant — set to become largest wheat refinery in Europe — owned by Ensus, a bioethanol company backed by American private equity companies Carlyle Group and Riverstone Holdings — will source 1.2 million tonnes of feed wheat to produce over 400 million litres of bioethanol a year.

All the biofuel will be purchased by the Dutch energy giant, Shell.

A second $400 million refinery constructed by the energy company BP, the international food and retail group Associated British Foods, and DuPont, the American chemicals company, will require 1.1 million tonnes of wheat to produce 110 million gallons of bioethanol.

It is scheduled for completion in 2010.

Both refineries are angling to capitalize on British and European Union targets to reduce carbon emissions from road transport though biofuels.

And both refineries say they plan to use low-quality wheat sources, which are normally used for animal feed, rather than using the high-grade wheat that normally goes toward making bread.

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