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Considering miscanthus? Make sure you plan well in advance

  • Blog
  • 3 min read

Miscanthus is more suited to marginal, problem fields. If the wet weather this year has highlighted more waterlogged fields on your farm, it might be advisable to consider an alternative crop.

When the fields are coming out of arable crop rotations, earmark them now for 2017 miscanthus spring planting. Because planning is really key to a better yielding crop, and seed bed preparation can start in autumn this year.

Miscanthus is a hardy perennial plant, grown from rhizome (root stock), that’s harvested annually for 20 years or more.

With miscanthus there’s a strong correlation between good planning and a healthy, high yielding crop. The best crops started life in the planning stage the year before planting.

The difference between the best and worst crops can be as much as double the yield, each year and every year thereafter.

My top five tips for early planning are important to implement now:

1) Get it right the first time

Miscanthus, just like any other arable crop, will do better if cultural controls such as the seed bed and weed management are tip top.

The advantage of miscanthus is that you only plant ONCE, this can easily become a disadvantage if done poorly. There is no second chance, as with wheat, for example.

There’s just the one chance to get it right, and this really isn’t down to luck, it’s down to good planning and proper preparation which should start now.

2) Commit to a decision

Make the decision to grow miscanthus and commit to it. Be bold and don’t sit on the fence, letting another crop take precedence. If you leave it to the last minute, your crop yields might be compromised. Do it once. And do it right.

3) Soil preparation

It’s crucial to prepare the soil well in the autumn before planting the following spring.
Heavier clay soil needs to be ploughed and subsoiled well in autumn to achieve a nice tilth in the spring, with help from winter frost that will break down the soil further, leaving your soil finer.

If heavy or light land needs subsoiling, the operation will be far more successful if done during August or September, when the soil is dry.

4) Weed control

Light, sandy and gravelly soils can throw up a lot of perennial weeds and volunteers. If you plan now, you’ll be able to apply a few applications of Roundup in good conditions with better results.

Weed control in the establishment phase of miscanthus is essential because poor control can hamper the successful development of the crop. It’s vital that fields should be cleared of perennial weeds before any planting takes place.

But it’s also important to remember that miscanthus requires minimal herbicide inputs once established, as it suppresses annual weeds that may have previously been common in the field, including blackgrass.

5) Inputs and soil sampling

If you decide to grow miscanthus, there’s no need to be ordering seed and fertiliser as you would other crops, because there are minimal, and commonly no inputs.

If a soil sample is taken during the summer, nine times out of ten, no additional nutrients such as phosphate or potash need ordering, and the crop doesn’t require nitrogen applications. Miscanthus has little or no need for applied fertiliser, and this can be confirmed by a basic soil test.