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The Miscanthus myth buster

  • Blog
  • 5 min read

At Terravesta, we understand that planting any new crop can be a daunting prospect for farmers – especially if they have not considered a perennial crop before. We often talk to growers who are interested in planting Miscanthus, but are letting simple misconceptions hold them back. Here, we tackle some of the most common ‘Miscanthus Myths’ head-on:

Myth 1. “The end market for Miscanthus is limited”

Demand for Miscanthus as a UK-grown biomass resource is huge – and thanks to Terravesta’s 10-year, index-linked growing contracts, farmers have a secure, long-term market for all the crop they can produce. In other words, if you can grow it, we will buy it. Our contracts with energy producers mean your crop will be used to fulfil renewable heat and power requirements across the UK. Miscanthus is also used as a raw material for a number of different purposes in the wider marketplace.

Myth 2. “It’s a low-input, low-margin crop”

This is only half true! Miscanthus is indeed a low-input crop, but the net margins it offers are consistently high in comparison to other arable crops. See the numbers for yourself by using our new Miscanthus calculator.

Myth 3. “Planting costs are so high that you need a grant to plant”

It’s true that planting costs were once high (at £2,300/ha) – but a lot has changed since then. Greater experience and economies of scale mean Terravesta is able to dramatically reduce the cost of 2015 planting to just £1,050/ha (£425/acre). What’s more, those who have an outstanding Energy Crops Scheme planting grant for spring 2015 can claim 50% of these costs back – meaning net costs of just £525/ha (£212/acre).

Myth 4. “Miscanthus only produces a harvest every three years”

Because Terravesta has capped maximum haulage costs, most growers who plant Miscanthus can expect to see their first commercially viable harvest by the end of year two. What’s more, Terravesta’s expert team continues to provide growers with free agronomy advice and support for the duration of their contract – helping them to maximise the potential output of their crop.

Myth 5. “You just plant it and leave it – that’s not really farming”

While it’s true that Miscanthus is less labour-intensive than other cereals, it would be wrong to think of it as a true ‘plant and forget’ crop. Good husbandry and agronomy is needed at both the planting and harvest stages to secure the best quality crop and, in turn, the best profits. Read our Essential Growers’ Guide – the ultimate handbook to all things Miscanthus – to find out more. Every year is different in terms of weather, and for advice and support (even at critical times!) we are always just a call away.

Myth 6. “I can’t believe you don’t need nitrogen to grow Miscanthus”

It’s true! Research by Rothamsted (the longest-running agricultural research station in the world) and Aberystwyth University – using varying nitrogen rates and timings – has shown no effect on Miscanthus yields over a long period. As with other rhizome-based plants, the crop naturally recycles nutrients. Additionally, Miscanthus needs only minimal annual herbicide once established, as it suppresses annual weeds that would previously have been common on the site, including blackgrass.

Myth 7. “It destroys soil structure”

In fact, the opposite is true. Vigorous annual root growth, combined with older root decomposition, generates organic matter, increasing fertility and opening soil structure. Additionally, lack of annual cultivations and ample leaf and harvest residue litter create the ideal environment for invertebrate and earthworm population growth.

Myth 8. “It’s planted in the autumn”

Miscanthus is actually planted in spring, with a March-May harvesting window, depending on the weather. This has the additional benefit that neither planting nor harvesting conflicts with peak workloads for other crops.

Myth 9. “I need specialist machinery”

Harvesting (carried out with a self-propelled maize harvester), and baling into Hesston bales, are both contractors’ jobs – so many of our growers manage their crop with nothing more than a telephone and a pen. Most areas of the country have a choice of suitable contractors.

You need to be able to move, store and load Hesston bales, but if you don’t have suitable machinery yourself, this can all be contracted as well. Planting requires a fine tilth (created using standard arable cultivation equipment), and the planter (which is generally provided by the rhizome supplier) requires a 120HP tractor.

You do, however, need to keep your stored bales dry, and we strongly advocate using buildings as shelter where possible. As the crop is harvested around the same time that livestock is turned out, or when grain has moved off farm, there is generally no need for dedicated Miscanthus barns. If you let us know when you will require a building again for its primary use, we will ensure that your crop is collected in good time. If you have no suitable buildings, a pole barn is a worthwhile investment (and preferable to sheeting stacks).

Myth 10. “Miscanthus farmers have to go it alone”

Terravesta is committed to helping its national grower network get the very best out of their Miscanthus, so our growers are never alone. With tailored support on hand every step of the way – from planting and maintenance right through to contracts and logistics (as well as regular regional growers’ meetings to bring our network together) – our expert team of Miscanthus people is here to help. Get in touch today to find out more.