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Michael Bowden

Berkshire mixed arable/livestock farmer

It took us years to find successful crop for reclaimed land

"Finding a crop to grow on land formerly utilised for gravel extraction, that's also prone to waterlogging, has been a challenge. After trying to grow a number of crops on the land, the most successful of which was maize, which did have harvesting limitations, we finally discovered a crop that worked. We've been growing miscanthus since 2007, on wet, marginal, lower grade land, and it's been remarkably resilient."

The crop survived drought and flooding through its establishment

"After planting 40 acres of the crop in April 2007, it was followed by a very dry spring/summer. The soil was so dry it was like talcum powder, and the miscanthus took a while to establish.

"It didn't appear until June, and then we were hit by the well-known floods in July, where four inches of rain fell in one day. Because the land is low lying, heavy rainfall collects on it, and the establishing crop stood in water for a couple of weeks.

"The crop was exposed to extreme weather from the off, with an uncharacteristically dry establishment, and then flooding, and we didn't have a lot of hope for it. But it came good, although patchy in areas."

Harvesting and working with Terravesta

"In 2009 we made the decision to top the miscanthus and incorporate it back into the land. The leaves are full of valuable nutrients, so benefitting the soil. Then in 2010 we had our first harvest, which was pretty good. We baled 72 tonnes of crop, amounting to 4.9 tonnes per hectare. The crop is all contracted to Terravesta, from planting to harvesting, to where it ends up as biomass.

"Growing miscanthus has worked for us, and I'd encourage other growers to consider it on lower yielding land. On marginal land it has a place, and with maize, wheat and barley prices what they are, it makes sense to grow a low input, high-yielding crop that does well on typically difficult areas."

Commitment and diligence

"Planting miscanthus is not a decision to be taken lightly, it requires a commitment, and certainly during the first two establishment years, you have to be diligent, because rabbits and deer love it. Weeds can be an issue early on, but once it's established it requires no inputs. One thing I'd say is that bale storage is key. We aim for a lower than 16% moisture content, which is what Terravesta pay a premium for, and we average 10-12%, because we store the crop in our old fashioned Dutch barn.

"When we planted the crop the rhizomes were around £1500 per hectare to plant, now Terravesta have brought the cost down to £1000 per hectare. We have some more reclaimed land available to plant up, and I'm seriously considering planting more miscanthus."

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Farm Facts

Location

Reading, Berkshire

Farm Type

Mixed arable/ livestock

Farm Size

270 ha

Miscanthus Planted Areas

14.69ha

Year Planted

2007

Why Miscanthus?

10 Reasons to grow the ‘wonder crop’

1. Best ever price

Miscanthus prices have hit an all-time high, and Terravesta is now offering growers £74/tonne for 2015 contracts. What's more, through its new Barn Bonus scheme, growers whose Miscanthus bales have been stored in a barn and meet the required moisture specification of 16% or less will also be rewarded with up to £2/tonne extra. Don't miss out on the Miscanthus opportunity - sign up now!

2. Guaranteed returns

Boasting low overheads, stable pricing, guaranteed returns and reliable net margins for 20 years or more, Miscanthus offers a degree of financial certainty that almost no other crop can.

3. Reduced planting costs

Terravesta's new on-farm planting techniques and processes have brought down establishment costs significantly. Get in touch today to discuss your options.

4. Minimal maintenance

Once established, Miscanthus is a 'hands-off' crop requiring remarkably low input. It doesn't need fertiliser, chemicals or annual soil cultivation, so you can focus your attentions elsewhere - for enhanced overall production and improved profitability. For everything you need to know about growing Miscanthus, download our Essential Growers' Guide here

5. Maximise marginal land

All farms have less productive areas, but the nature of Miscanthus means it can be grown in poorer quality soil - turning your marginal land into profitable land!

6. Virtually weatherproof

As a moisture demander, Miscanthus flourishes in wet conditions as well as dry. What's more, the leaf mulch it produces suppresses weed growth, acting as a natural weapon against blackgrass

7. Annual growth

Miscanthus is a perennial crop with an annual growing cycle, delivering yearly profits at low inputs. It's also harvested in spring, so it doesn't conflict with other crops

8. Reliable biomass resource

With demand for UK biomass far outstripping its production, the opportunities for Miscanthus as an energy crop are endless. In contrast to the decades newly planted forestry can take to deliver results, Miscanthus produces commercial yields within just three years

9. Grow your own fuel

Any grower with a termed Terravesta contract can buy back Miscanthus pellets as heat on a separate energy supply contract - at a significantly discounted rate - through our Grower Fuel Loop (GFL) scheme. This means making a profit on selling bales, as well as considerable savings on fuel (particularly attractive for on-farm heat requirements)

10. Government backing

As well as pledging to treble investment in clean power generation, the government is actively supporting sustainable heating through schemes like the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). Demand for biomass is set to increase dramatically as a result, bringing with it an opportunity for Miscanthus growers to reap the rewards now and well into the future

A helping hand

If you have a question about any aspect of Miscanthus growing, get in touch today, or click here to read the Essential Growers' Guide - our ultimate handbook to all things Miscanthus.

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