Skip to content
Home » News » Meet the Miscanthus grower: Colin Chappell

Meet the Miscanthus grower: Colin Chappell

  • News
  • 4 min read

The Chappell family has been farming on the banks of the River Ancholme in the Lincolnshire flatlands for four generations. Today, Colin Chappell continues this legacy by managing the 645-hectare family farm, producing a diverse array of crops and embracing innovative farming practices.

After studying agriculture at Harper Adams University, Colin worked in Australia before returning home to take over the family farm. His tenure as an AHDB monitor farmer from 2017 to 2020 allowed him to broaden his perspective through knowledge exchange with other farmers.

Colin is passionate about soil health, encouraging young people to pursue careers in agriculture, and educating school children about the origins of their food. His efforts earned him the inaugural Rawcliffe Bridge Sustainable Farmer of the Year award in 2022.

A challenging year

Despite the challenging year, Colin has been expanding his farming operations. This year, he plans to plant an additional 4.7 hectares of Terravesta AthenaTM Miscanthus next to his current 26-hectare crop.

He notes that farming has become increasingly difficult due to changing weather patterns.

“Normal cropping might be a thing of the past,” he says, reflecting on the severe flooding that left 85% of his fields unplanted by mid-April this year.

In response to these challenges, Colin emphasises the benefits of growing Miscanthus on less productive land. “We grow food on the better land and farm Miscanthus on the less productive fields,” he explains.

Colin says that he expects the floods to have significantly impacted his yields. “Winter wheat, which typically yields 12 tonnes per hectare, will likely produce only about 6 tonnes per hectare this year as a spring sown crop. Similarly, the spring barley, planted late April, may yield at best around 7.5 tonnes per hectare,” he says.

With only 5.5 fields of winter crops surviving out of an initial 9, Colin has turned to spring crops, with their associated high costs due to seed crop failures.

Where Miscanthus fits in

“British farmers are in unknown territory,” he says. “Miscanthus offers numerous advantages, including long-term financial security, robust markets, and environmental benefits. With Miscanthus, you have to take a long-term view and look at the guaranteed returns from an upfront investment,” says Colin.

“It provides an income each year, with next to no inputs post-establishment,” he says.

“The Miscanthus fields teem with wildlife, including reed buntings, reed warblers, redshank, curlew, linnet, deer, and many underground species that thrive due to minimal soil disturbance, and the crop is a valuable carbon sink.”

Terravesta AthenaTM is a carbon negative crop, proven to capture 0.64 tonnes of carbon (2.35 tonnes of CO2e) per year in the ground.

Colin supplies Miscanthus to Miscanthus specialist, Terravesta, which then supplies the Brigg Renewable Energy Plant with whole bales located less than a mile from his farm. This arrangement is supported by a 14-year contract with the power station, which benefits from long-term government support.

According to Terravesta, Lincolnshire farmers and fuelling local homes. Based on 12t/ha average at 4000kwh/tonne and power station efficiency at 40%, 10ha of Miscanthus generates enough electricity to supply 55 average homes for a year at 3,400kwh average annual consumption. A grower with 25ha is probably supplying enough electricity for their entire village.  

“SFI schemes are all well and good, but they’re a short-term fix. Miscanthus is supplying sustainable, carbon negative energy to local homes and it’s a long-term solution that’s unaffected by price and weather volatility,” says Colin.

Colin remains optimistic about the future of Miscanthus. “It ticks lots of boxes, environmentally it’s fantastic for the farm, it’s supplying a local market, and it provides a long-term, reliable income, and I don’t worry about blackgrass because the high canopy completely outcompetes it.”

Colin reports yields of 13 tonnes per hectare on poor-grade land from a Miscanthus giganteus crop planted in 2006. Thanks to improved rhizome quality and planting techniques, new crops now achieve a 90% establishment rate and are likely to yield at least 15 tonnes per hectare.

“I’ll be replacing some of the old Miscanthus giganteus crop, which, after 20 years is still yielding, but yields are starting to wane,” he adds.

“I’m hoping to plant more Terravesta AthenaTM next year, because I look at my neighbour’s crop and I can see it’s better than my standard Miscanthus giganteus variety.”

Colin admits that this year’s Miscanthus harvest has been affected by the flooding. “The conditions have been less than ideal for the second year in a row, and the moisture content of the bales was more than I would have liked, but we’ve still harvested a viable crop in a flood-prone field and it’s likely that it will be one of the more profitable crops on the farm this year,” adds Colin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *