It took us years to find successful crop for reclaimed land
"Finding a crop to grow on land formerly utilised for gravel extraction, that's also prone to waterlogging, has been a challenge.
After trying to grow a number of crops on the land, the most successful of which was maize, which did have harvesting limitations, we finally discovered a crop that worked. We've been growing miscanthus since 2007, on wet, marginal, lower grade land, and it's been remarkably resilient."
The crop survived drought and flooding through its establishment
"After planting 40 acres of the crop in April 2007, it was followed by a very dry spring/summer. The soil was so dry it was like talcum powder, and the miscanthus took a while to establish.
"It didn't appear until June, and then we were hit by the well-known floods in July, where four inches of rain fell in one day. Because the land is low lying, heavy rainfall collects on it, and the establishing crop stood in water for a couple of weeks.
"The crop was exposed to extreme weather from the off, with an uncharacteristically dry establishment, and then flooding, and we didn't have a lot of hope for it. But it came good, although patchy in areas."
Harvesting and working with Terravesta
"In 2009 we made the decision to top the miscanthus and incorporate it back into the land. The leaves are full of valuable nutrients, so benefitting the soil. Then in 2010 we had our first harvest, which was pretty good. We baled 72 tonnes of crop, amounting to 4.9 tonnes per hectare.
The crop is all contracted to Terravesta, from planting to harvesting, to where it ends up as biomass.
"Growing miscanthus has worked for us, and I'd encourage other growers to consider it on lower yielding land.
On marginal land it has a place, and with maize, wheat and barley prices what they are, it makes sense to grow a low input, high-yielding crop that does well on typically difficult areas."
Commitment and diligence
"Planting miscanthus is not a decision to be taken lightly, it requires a commitment, and certainly during the first two establishment years, you have to be diligent, because rabbits and deer love it. Weeds can be an issue early on, but once it's established it requires no inputs.
One thing I'd say is that bale storage is key. We aim for a lower than 16% moisture content, which is what Terravesta pay a premium for, and we average 10-12%, because we store the crop in our old fashioned Dutch barn.
"When we planted the crop the rhizomes were around £1500 per hectare to plant, now Terravesta have brought the cost down to £1000 per hectare. We have some more reclaimed land available to plant up, and I'm seriously considering planting more miscanthus."