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Miscanthus – a profitable crop for flood-prone land

  • Miscanthus
  • 4 min read

Miscanthus could be a viable option for flood-prone land. It thrives where other crops fail on fields that would otherwise be unprofitable or high risk, and research shows that not only can it grow well in waterlogged areas, but it also provides much needed soil stability.

Results of a study from the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University concluded that Miscanthus can thrive on waterlogged fields, it provides soil stability and crop yield is not affected by excess water.

According to the lead author in the study, Dr Jason Kam, crop quality is not compromised by flooding. “There is no significant difference in yield and other physiological development. Observed height and tiller number have no differences between winter flooded and non-flooded ground.

“Because of Miscanthus’ perennial nature, annual planting is not needed. This therefore reduces soil disturbance to a minimum,” he says.

“The structure of Miscanthus rhizome and root helps to stabilise soils, making it more resilient against flood-caused soil erosion,” adds Jason.

Yorkshire arable farmer, Rob Meadley, grows 12 hectares of Miscanthus on varying quality, flood-prone land that previously wasn’t delivering a viable return with arable crops, to supply crop specialist, Terravesta, each year.

Rob planted Miscanthus in March 2012 in good conditions, but this was followed by the wettest April on record, meaning the freshly planted crop was in standing water, and the bad weather hit again in June.

Rob explains that the 2014 harvest was affected by the legacy of flooding and lack of weed control. “Arable crops would never have survived the conditions that the Miscanthus was exposed to, and we didn’t lose any money on inputs. The annual yield quickly recovered, and in 2017 and 2020, we had bumper harvests of over 13t/ha.”

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Tonnage 9.78 100.66 143.64 157.54 139.94 153.41 159.36 134.61 154.25
Yield (Tonnes/ha) 0.81 8.36 11.93 13.08 11.62 12.74 13.24 11.18 12.81

The Miscanthus area has allowed Rob to square off an arable crop next to it, and this field is two miles away from the farm, meaning the minimal maintenance required is a huge benefit. “The crop has also helped to naturally control blackgrass in that area,” says Rob.

Ultimately, Rob explains that there would not have been another option for a crop on that land which would have been as profitable. “Back in 2012 when we decided to plant Miscanthus, the principle was looking at the whole farm net margin and identifying the risk in this area.

“It wasn’t performing as well as other parts of the farm and Miscanthus was 100% the right decision for it. The only other option for that land would have been environmental grass, but Miscanthus beats this hands down from a net margin point of view,” he adds.

Terravesta chairman, William Cracroft-Eley, planted a Miscanthus crop in 2015 on flood-prone fields, having previously grown it in other areas on the farm. When it came to the first harvest, the crop was 4 feet underwater due to flooding.

William left it standing until the following year and had a bumper harvest. “It was a win-win situation because no damage was done to the land, no money was spent on contractors, it wasn’t a loss, because we harvested the crop the following year with the new growth and we hadn’t spent any money on inputs because no fertiliser was applied,” he says.

“Miscanthus does well on all types of land, and like any crop, it does better on more favourable land. But, it also thrives where other crops fail, and this could be for numerous reasons, and in this case, it’s become an ideal solution to water-logged land which would otherwise be unprofitable,” says William.

As well as offering long-term, consistent income, and environmental benefits on less productive land, Miscanthus is now more affordable and profitable, thanks to new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) payments. Up to £2645 per year on a 10-hectare Miscanthus crop can be claimed on land classified as a non-horticultural permanent crop.

Due to the payments, the return-on-investment break-even point is two years earlier and the average net return for a 10-hectare crop is £930/ha, and this return is retail price index-linked, so it goes up consistently each year, according to Terravesta.