Tackle climate change and turn a profit

24th March 2020

Are you interested in the benefits that the low maintenance, highly profitable crop Miscanthus offers? Orders for spring 2021 planting have opened up, and if you order now, the first deposit isn’t due until September. We’ve put together a beginner’s guide to help you find out whether it’s the right diversification option for you…

Miscanthus is a crop that is rapidly growing in popularity with farmers and landowners. It’s been identified as a key component in the land use mix to reach net zero, and it generates a good income on poor quality land that can otherwise drain farm profits.

The recent report from the committee on climate change, entitled “Land use: Policies for a net zero UK” states that expanding biomass crops by around 23,000 hectares each year would deliver 2MtCO2e emissions savings in the land sector and an extra 11 MtCO2e from the harvested biomass when used for construction or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), for example.

Terravesta is clear that there is a need to find plentiful, clean and secure alternatives to fossil fuels and it is here that UK grown biomass sources, such as Miscanthus, play a crucial role.

Growing Miscanthus

Miscanthus is a perennial energy crop that can grow to heights of up to 12 feet and can produce yields of 15 tonnes/ha, with average returns considerably higher than arable crops, at £530.85/ha, based on an average yield over 15 years.

The crop is grown on over 8,000ha of marginal land in the UK and the area is increasing rapidly. Because Miscanthus is harvested in spring time, it doesn’t conflict with peaks in arable crop rotations, but it uses the same harvesting machinery, and contractors throughout the UK are trained in Miscanthus cutting and baling.

A further benefit to growers is that the crop requires little or no inputs, once established. This is because the root stock, known as the rhizome, recycles nutrients back into the soil, so no nitrogen fertiliser application is required.

As Miscanthus only has to be planted once, is harvested annually, and goes on for 20 + years, growers consider it a long term, low maintenance investment that provides an assured income well into the future.

Establishment

According to Ben Booth from Terravesta, the crop looks after itself once it’s established, but it’s essential that growers invest time and effort into successful establishment, as this determines the speed to maturity, ground-fill and overall return.

Establishment costs for 2021 planting are £1500/ha, and this includes rhizomes, agronomy, drone mapping, Miscanthus planter hire and delivery.

“The upfront cost is significant, but with improved rhizome quality with the new variety, Terravesta AthenaTM growers are now looking at a second-year harvest, meaning quicker returns and a faster ROI,” explains Ben.

“It’s vital to prepare the soil well in the autumn before planting the following spring. Heavier clay should be ploughed and subsoiled well in the autumn in order to achieve a fine tilth in the spring. A winter frost will help to further break down the soil,” he says.

“Weed control is crucial when establishing the crop and it’s vital that fields are cleared of perennial weeds before planting.

“But it’s important to remember that Miscanthus requires minimal herbicide inputs once established, as it suppresses annual weeds such as blackgrass, because the high canopy of the crop out-competes it,” says Ben.

Ben advises that because a Miscanthus crop only needs to be planted once, farmers only have one chance to get it right. “Growers should be discouraged from planting in poor conditions, Miscanthus is a long-term commitment with long term results, so starting off well will obtain the best outcome.”

Growing markets

Miscanthus is a lignocellulosic plant which means it’s one of the most rapidly available raw materials on the Earth for the production of biofuels and forms an extraordinary base feedstock for all bioeconomic uses.

There’s a strong market today in first generation uses such as burning Miscanthus for power generation and heat.

Terravesta currently has 14-year contracts with both Brigg and Snetterton Renewable Energy Power Plant for the supply of 50,000 tonnes of whole Miscanthus bales annually. As well as supplying the commercial heat and power industry and livestock bedding market, the company has also launched its own range of domestic fuels.

There are exciting second-generation markets emerging all the time from biorefining Miscanthus for advanced end-uses, such as degradable plastics, pharmaceuticals, bioethanol and biogas production, as well as fibre uses for construction, materials and furniture, for example.

To find out more about planting Miscanthus in 2021, contact the Miscanthus planting team by emailing planting@terravesta.com or calling 01522 731873.

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