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Opportunity for more Miscanthus growers in wales?

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  • 3 min read

According to the Welsh Government, approximately 80% of the land area in Wales is designated as a less favourable area (LFA). This means that production conditions are difficult, such as areas where land, climatic and cultivation conditions are poor.

The land is therefore more suited to pasture and livestock farming and not arable cropping. The widespread highlands are more favourable towards sheep, specifically hardy Welsh Mountain Sheep.

With Brexit on the horizon, and uncertainty mounting, many Welsh livestock farmers are looking at diversification income streams to help future-proof their businesses.

We explored the possibility of Miscanthus providing part of a solution, and spoke to Welsh farmers who are already benefitting from the crop as a bedding on a ‘Welsh Miscanthus Safari’, run by Aberystwyth University, at the end of September.

The day started with a visit to a six-hectare commercial Miscanthus trial field. The five-year-old Miscanthus giganteus crop is managed by Jon McCalmont, research assistant in bioenergy and environmental biology at Aberystwyth University.

He said: “It yields around eight tonnes per hectare and its proven valuable for a local beef and sheep farmer.”

Jon donates the dried cane every spring to Richard Tudor, a local livestock farmer, who is invited to harvest it himself with his own forage harvester. He chips it and has found it’s a very effective bedding material.

“It saves me approximately £2,500 and it’s good for housing sheep and cattle. Cereal straw is getting more expensive and I’ve been considering growing my own Miscanthus crop for bedding,” Richard says.

“It’s difficult to grow barley in this area, but we are good at growing grass!”

Plenty of Welsh farmers are situated in upland highly exposed areas, and report difficulty in establishing cereal crops. But farmers were pleasantly surprised in the afternoon visit to a Miscanthus trial plot that’s thriving at 1000 feet above sea level.

It’s a project that’s been implemented in by Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre, and on the plot, is a Miscanthus giganteus crop as well as three new hybrid trials, one of which has the potential to be harvested In November rather than the spring, which could be better timing than a spring harvest for livestock farmers.

Terravesta spoke to delegates at the event, and fielded questions from keen farmers. And while the market for Miscanthus isn’t well established in Wales, Jacob Duce, Terravesta sales and marketing manager says there is an appetite for it.

“Our power stations are in the East of the UK, making it unlikely that returns will stack up due to the cost of haulage, but growing Miscanthus for bedding may be a way for Welsh farmers to benefit from a crop that grows well in the Welsh uplands and copes with more challenging topography.”

“Terravesta works with 265 Miscanthus growers, all over the UK, to service large and small-scale energy markets, and while there are currently few Miscanthus farmers in Wales, the opportunity to plant the crop for bedding for own use is very real, and anyone interested in planting the crop for 2018 should get in touch with us,” says Jacob.