Rob Meadley, Brown and Co agricultural business consultant and East Yorkshire arable farmer, grows 12 hectares of Miscanthus on varying quality, outlying land which previously wasn’t delivering a viable return with arable crops.
His Miscanthus is coming up to eight years old and after a difficult start in April 2012 where planting was followed by wet conditions, it’s showing a typical Miscanthus yield profile and good returns compared with other crops on the same soil type.
Rob believes Miscanthus is the right crop for this land, and has not only met the budgeted return, but has introduced additional ecological benefits to the farm.
“We’ve had a number of RSPB surveys done on the farm and the feedback was that they were genuinely surprised by the abundance and diversity of birds in and around the Miscanthus, including Curlews, rarely found in East Yorkshire,” explains Rob.
“We also saw breeding deer, brown hares and an abundance of invertebrates.”
Rob planted Miscanthus in March 2012 in good conditions, but this was followed by the wettest April on record, meaning the freshly planted crop was in standing water, and the bad weather hit again in June.
“We therefore couldn’t control weeds on a poor-quality field with a heavy weed burden,” he says. “We applied a selective herbicide on Terravesta’s recommendation, in August that year, then the following year we topped it and controlled the weeds and apart from a little patch spraying in 2014, no herbicide has been used on the crop, which out-competes the weeds each year.
“The only issue to note was on one of the headlands where the forager and baler turns, we noticed compaction. We used a low disturbance subsoiler and this affected the height of the crop across a couple of passes, but the following year it was back to normal height.”
Rob explains that the 2014 harvest was affected by the legacy from flooding and lack of weed control, but arable crops would never have survived the conditions that the Miscanthus was exposed to and we didn’t lose any money on inputs. “The annual yield quickly recovered, and in 2017 we had a bumper harvest of 13t/ha.”
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The Miscanthus area has allowed Rob to square off an arable crop next to it, and this field is two miles away from the farm, meaning the minimal maintenance required is noticeable. “The crop has also helped to naturally control blackgrass in that area,” says Rob.
Ultimately, Rob explains that there would not have been another option for a crop on that land which would have been as profitable. “Back in 2012 when we decided to plant Miscanthus, the principle was looking at the whole farm net margin and identifying the risk in this area.
“It wasn’t performing as well as other parts of the farm and Miscanthus was 100% the right decision for it. The only other option for that land would have been environmental grass, but Miscanthus beats this hands down from a net margin point of view.
“Miscanthus is a vitally important crop due to its soil carbon capabilities and positive ecological impact, and with the uncertainty around farm subsidies under the Environmental Land Management (ELM) model, it provides a long-term fixed price, reliable income, ” adds Rob.