Contractors contending with higher input costs and labour shortages are feeling the pinch this year. But an increasing number are finding a new opportunity in Miscanthus harvesting, adding an additional income stream at a quiet time of the year.
Miscanthus is cut with a forage harvester and baled in the spring months when business is traditionally quieter, and one Lincolnshire contractor has seen numerous benefits to his business from harvesting the crop since around 2002.
Tim Russon, based near Lincoln, works with around 60 Miscanthus growers from Yorkshire to Suffolk, harvesting up to 1,700ha per season, which typically runs from January until the end of April.
“We harvest the Miscanthus crops for Terravesta, and whole Hesston bales go directly to Brigg and Snetterton renewable energy power stations to supply electricity to local homes,” says Tim.
“We have four Claas Jaguar 970 forage harvesters, and two of these are used specifically on Miscanthus.
“We have made modifications to the machines to do the job, as Miscanthus is harsh on them. Initially, we tried removing most of the knives from the drum, and we took the shear bar out and found this chopped the crop up too much because the canes need to be left long so they dry out.
“We then reduced the engine revs to slow down the drum speed, but this reduced the header speed, so it wasn’t cutting the crop enough.
“We ended up making our own drum, which works brilliantly,” says Tim.
Tim started the contracting business in 1989 and last year he won the prestigious ‘Contractor of the Year’ trophy at the British Farming Awards. “I’m a dairy farmer’s son, and I knew from early on that I wanted to go out and be an agri contractor. I borrowed my father’s tractor and tools and haven’t looked back since.
“Contracting has been part of the farm business for a long time, and it’s grown from nothing. When my father sadly passed away in 2009, the contracting business had evolved so much that we solely concentrated on this,” he says.
Tim believes there are many benefits to Miscanthus, most notably a longer working season. “As well as being harsh on the machinery, in a wet year like this one, it can be challenging to get onto the land to cut and bale it, but that’s no different to any other crop.
“I think Miscanthus is a good opportunity for farmers to take less productive land out of cereal production and get more income from it, this in turn increases the average yield across the farm and reduces input costs, because you’re farming the more productive land.
“Over the years I’ve had a very good working relationship with Alex Robinson and Terravesta, we’ve solved problems between us, and I hope I’ve provided a valued service to them and their customers,” adds Tim.
Terravesta works with over 40 contractors covering the length of the UK, who are experts in harvesting Miscanthus, which is generally a contractor job.