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The 12 months of Terravesta

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  • 7 min read

With the festive season upon us, we thought we’d feature a ‘twist’ on the traditional 12 days of Christmas by looking back at some of the amazing highlights of our most successful year yet…2015. It’s been a record-breaker in so many ways, and there is so much to look forward to in 2016.


We started the year with our traditional grower forums, always the first activity of the new year. The dates and venues were circulated, and once again they were spread up and down the country, designed to introduce new opportunities, discuss best practice and ensure all growers maximise the profit opportunities available from the crop. There was also feedback from the contractor summits held the previous autumn.


We teamed up with other industry colleagues in sponsoring the widely-publicised charity tractor run for the farming charity Forage Aid, that set off from the Somerset Levels and drew to a close in Telford, with the International centre hosting the ever-popular annual Energy Now event, where Terravesta was exhibiting for the third time. Lincolnshire farmer Andrew Ward had started the charity in 2013 as a response to snowstorms that left sheep farmers in Wales and North West England without feed for their livestock. Funds were needed in 2014 to cope with the flooding in the Somerset Levels, and Andrew is currently hard at work helping out in Cumbria, the latest area to be hit by record levels of rainwater. Our stand was incredibly busy from the moment the doors opened, and William spoke about miscanthus and its use on marginal land in the conference’s energy crop session.


With more growers working with us this year, record yields and high quality crops across the board, we’ve been busier than ever. This year, we will have processed over 34.5 thousand tonnes of miscanthus bales in total. 2015 has been a great growing season and, with 216 farms currently on contract to Terravesta, providing we have a good spring in 2016, we hope to repeat, if not better, the yield and quality we’ve seen this time.


We started to get yield information coming into the office, and we were delighted to hear about the records achieved by Bill Lewis, who farms in Norfolk. His crop was not quite two years old, yet yielded a staggering 8.82tonnes/ha – the largest documented on a crop of this maturity to date. Typically the first harvest is three years after planting, with yields about half this size, gradually increasing year on year to average between 12 and 18 tonnes/ha over its 20 plus year life. This is giving Bill a quicker return on investment than he expected, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on his 2016 figures!


We were excited to be able to announce details of the pioneering Giant Link miscanthus project, which was to be demonstrated at the Cereals Event in June. This is a seed breeding programme, aiming to cut the costs of growing miscanthus by enabling the crop to be grown from seed, rather than the traditional rhizome. The project has led us to work alongside Aberystwyth University, University of Aberdeen, US biotechnology company Ceres Inc, DEFRA, the NFU, E.on, Biocatalysts and Blankney Estates.


This was our third successive Cereals Event, and our best yet, with record numbers of farmers coming on to the stand and expressing an interest in joining the growing number of people planting miscanthus. The weather was lovely throughout, and our large bales sheltered visitors from the sun and slight breeze. Aberystwyth University researchers joined us on the stand, and a former London bus offered a bird’s eye view of the event. We saw again how our future was burning bright!


We’ve worked on improving our Essential Growers Guide for 2016, which contains everything our farmers need to know about growing, harvesting and storing the crop. It’s a fantastic reference tool for growers, enabling them to deliver a premium quality crop, which will benefit from the best market price, and create confidence in future supply. To get the most out of miscanthus, cutting and baling stages are absolutely critical and will determine the moisture content of the cane. Moisture levels will ultimately be the deciding factor between the very best, or a minimum price, so it really does pay to get this part right, and the guide will tell you all you need to know about ensuring you deliver a premium crop.


Environmental credentials got a credit with the publication of an academic paper demonstrating – very clearly – the benefits of converting 5% of lower grade, marginal land to miscanthus. A key driver here was noted miscanthus researcher, Dr John Clifton-Brown, who worked alongside lead authors Dr John McCalmont from Aberystqyth and Dr Astley Hastings from Aberdeen.

The policy paper covers potential UK land availability, soil carbon, nitrous oxide emissions, water balance, biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions. More details can be found here.


Such was the interest in miscanthus that we started to promote our autumn farm walks, in each case kindly hosted by some of our growers. The walks were spread across the country, and well publicised, attracting substantial press and radio coverage as they moved from county to county. Record numbers attended, and we were pleased with the detailed questioning and interest, which shows that this is one of the best ways to get local farmers to come and see the benefits for themselves. As a result of unprecedented interest in the walks, and record numbers, we’ve introduced one more walk next year on January 28 taking place at Kings Lynn, Norfolk.


This was the month when we saw record levels of processing, with a record of 1000 tonnes in a seven-day period set in the second week of October. This was roughly a 10% uplift, when compared with the tonnage processed in an average week. It’s a great testament to our growers, because it’s down to the high quality bales that we’ve seen during 2015. In fact, for the first time, all bales have been harvested within specification, that’s below 16% moisture content.


We had a great couple of days at the Farm Business Innovation event at the NEC, Birmingham. We saw unprecedented interest from farmers and landowners, all keen to look at diversification and exploring how to make the most of their marginal land. George Robinson presented seminars on each day, looking at the crop’s profitability, certainty, security and opportunity. It was interesting to see how many potential growers didn’t know the crop was harvested late winter/early spring, so fits in well within a typical cropping year, or that it grew well on marginal land, yielding up to 20 years.


The time to reflect on a fantastic year, and start to look forward, with excitement, to 2016… most topical issue of the month, and almost of the year, is the flood plains work going ahead with trials being organised by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences unit at Aberystwyth. Miscanthus is being grown on plot-scale sites, and in controlled environments, as researchers study how the crop copes with prolonged flooding, particularly in its establishment phase, and analyse the structure and nutritional health of the soil under the sites.

So what a year… and who knows what the next 12 months will bring us. One thing’s for sure – more growers will seize upon the opportunities to grow this exciting energy crop, and more records will be broken.

Here’s to a happy festive season, and a rewarding 2016.