SIR, – Last week’s announcement from the UK Government that charity tractor runs are an acceptable use for red diesel must go down as one of its most perverse decisions yet.

The new legislation that came into effect on April 1, 2022, was introduced to try and cut emissions from diesel-powered vehicles by further limiting the accepted uses of rebated fuel, but all the Government’s u-turn will achieve is to allow tens of thousands of the country’s most polluting tractors to run around with tanks full of red diesel.

Without this get-out clause, restored tractors not used for any accepted agricultural, horticultural or forestry purpose, would have been restricted to white diesel on and off-road, but legitimising charity tractor runs as an acceptable agricultural use means red diesel can be used at any time – as long as tractor runs are the tractor’s main, or only use.

You have to hope that the Government is not aware of the number of old tractors in private collections in the UK. There is no other explanation for how the announcement could be made in the same week that Defra revealed steps to limit emissions of ammonia into the atmosphere from fertilisers from 2024.

Department for Transport figures give an indication of the size of the problem. There are currently 31,000 licenced or SORN Massey Ferguson tractors 50-years, or older in its database. There are also 9600 Internationals; 9300 David Browns; 6400 Fordsons; and even 3293 John Deeres that have celebrated 50 years on the road.

In the past 22 years, engine technology has evolved from EU Stage I to Stage V, and in the process particulate matter has been reduced by 72%, and hydrocarbon and NOx emissions have been reduced by 94%. A 2022 model 150hp tractor is likely to produce fewer total emissions than a 50-year-old, 45hp Massey Ferguson 135!

Those crowing about their success in 'saving' charity tractor runs should be ashamed. They have overturned a policy aimed at helping save the planet and created a situation where we are likely to see even more of these old tractors take to the road to prove they are used mainly for tractor runs.

With a bit of thought and ingenuity, things could have been so very different. Synthetic fuels, like hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO), provide a renewable diesel alternative that is carbon neutral with low emissions.

Okay, they cost a bit more than standard white diesel, but turning charity tractor runs 'green' would make the cost worthwhile.

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