Let's stalk Miscanthus

Miscanthus is making its way up the popularity rankings. As a feedstock for power stations, in the last five years there’s been a 20% increase in the area grown in the UK and 40% increase in the number of growers. 

This month, AF co-hosted a farm walk about this energy crop with our Member Algy Garrod and Terravesta. Here’s our summary of how to make the most of miscanthus and the benefits to business it brings. Read to the end for an extraordinary, exclusive offer for AF Members.

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It was a very warm Thursday for the Miscanthus Farm Walk arranged by Terravesta at AF Member Algy Garrod’s farm in Bintree. An enthusiastic group of our Members and others were came to hear how to make the most of this energy crop. 

De-mystifying miscanthus

Terravesta explained how miscanthus is a very easy crop to tend once it’s established. Rhizomes are planted by hand from a modified potato harvester between late March and early June. It requires spraying for weeds in years one and two, but after that there are no inputs. One of the advantages of miscanthus is that for 11 months of the year it can be left, only requiring attention at cutting and baling time.

We heard how Terravesta act as a full supply chain partner, controlling plant breeding and agronomy, arranging contractors to plant, harvest and bale the crop, and sell it to the end user. 

Cost to plant miscanthus can be £2,000/ha, although AF has managed to secure a very good discount for AF Members. 

By year two the crop is producing an income, with the additional upside that there are no input costs at all after year three. This is helped by the fact that once the crop is established the leaves drop, and their litter acts as a mulch to keep weeds down.

Harvest is between January and March, whenever the land and the crop are dry enough, so does not clash with other arable crops. Moisture needs to be below 24% to be accepted as biomass, and the baled product is sold to Eco2 on an RPI-indexed contract.

What our Member makes of miscanthus 

Algy explained he’s used miscanthus to square off his fields, as a break crop and also to provide game cover.

He says the biggest challenge is establishment. He had to prepare a good quality, clean seedbed in the autumn, even on the worst pockets of land. Weed control was important in year one, especially with perennials such as thistles and dock.

The second year was a bit better, and in his third and fourth year crops the weeds are struggling to make their presence known! His advice is “Don’t walk away from weed control too early.”

Other things he’s learned are that brown hares and other grazing predators can be a nuisance, especially in May when cereals are too tall to graze but the miscanthus is just coming through. Also, where being used for game cover, he recommends to drill sparingly to allow gaps between plants for people to move through.

What income?

Algy made enough income in year two to cover his cutting and baling costs, in year three he yielded 10t/ha and in year four 14t/ha. He believes yield will continue to increase as the rhizomes grow and fill out – typically established yields will be 12-17t/ha.

The profit after costs which has been quoted by Terravesta is £850-900/ha. An additional benefit is carbon storage. Even after burning for energy, miscanthus stores 2.35t of CO2 per hectare per year due to the exceptional sequestration properties of the rhizomes. For the time being the advice is to bank the saved carbon, as there is no regulated or formalised market. However, by measuring and recording the savings this will help with benchmarking performance, and enable future trading when the market matures.

In summary

Growing miscanthus is a long-term investment, but it was described as “farming on easy mode” – just sit back and wait for the money to come in! For this reason, it’s an ideal solution for poor quality or odd shaped land parcels. It can grow in all soil types and pH’s, it stores carbon, the income is index linked and works out at around 13% return on investment. Terravesta offer 5–15-year contracts, which can be rolled on as the crop will last 20-30 years.

For more information contact AF Crop Inputs Specialist Charlotte Gould: charlotte.gould@af.farmIf you procure your miscanthus contract (supplying and planting) through AF we’ve negotiated with Terravesta that as a Member anywhere you will get 15% discount, subject to successfully fulfilling the Terravesta selection criteria.

Save money. Save time.