ARABLE farmers have been urged to consider growing miscanthus as a new and secure way of earning income.
William Cracroft-Eley, grower and chairman of processor Terravesta, says now is a good time to get involved.
He dedicated ten per cent of his land to miscanthus in 2006 because of fluctuating cereal prices and unpredictable demand.
Although it was a lesserknown crop, he could see its potential as part of the UK’s future sustainable energy mix.
“What’s more, as the market for miscanthus as a homegrown biomass fuel source continues to go from strength to strength, its appeal for farmers looking for a low-risk, highreturn arable investment only increases,” he said.
Mr Cracroft-Eley said the crop has several attractive features for growers, not least its resilience and hands-off nature.
A perennial energy crop, it only needs planting once and requires no fertiliser and very little herbicide when established.
Growers can expect their first viable harvest after the second year, and will continue to experience stable, mature yields of 12 plus tonnes per hectare from year four or five for at least 20 years.
Miscanthus can be grown in poorer-quality soil, making it ideal for marginal land which might otherwise be unprofitable.
He said: “Many miscanthus farmers, myself included, find planting problem land with such a low-maintenance crop allows them to focus their attentions elsewhere, often resulting in enhanced wholefarm productivity.”
Its planting season of March- May and February-April harvesting do not clash with autumn- sown cereal rotations.
Miscanthus also flourishes in wet conditions and its constantly regenerative root structure improves drainage, even in the heaviest soils.
Its leaf mulch protects the soil from run-off and suppresses weed growth, particularly grass weeds like blackgrass.
As the renewable energy market continues to expand, partly due to the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), Mr Cracroft-Eley said many farmers had experienced high up-front costs of installing on-farm wind turbines or solar panels.
He said: “In contrast, planting miscanthus offers farmers a very real, imminent and costeffective opportunity to utilise the core agricultural skills at their fingertips.
“While returns from rotational crops and livestock are increasingly uncertain, miscanthus prices are at an alltime high of 72+/tonne for 2014, delivering lifetime average net margins that more than compete with arable rotational crops.”
Terravesta’s ten-year growing contracts give guaranteed index-linked returns.
Mr Cracroft-Eley said: “At present, the demand for pelleted miscanthus as a sustainable biomass fuel source far exceeds supply, bringing with it an unprecedented opportunity for growers.
“Utilising the potential 350,000 hectares of suitable planting land nationwide – all without detriment to food supply – would allow the production of five million tonnes of miscanthus. That’s enough to meet 24pc of the heat demand currently being fulfiled by oil and solid fuel in the UK.”
Terravesta manages each stage of the miscanthus process – from grower to enduser. See terravesta.com or call 01522-731873.