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Producing the “perfect plug”

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A crucial part of Terravesta’s work is to establish suitable hybrid varieties to grow on different soils both in the UK and beyond, which are designed for specific markets.

We have a growing portfolio of outstanding Miscanthus hybrids and these need to be trialled and tested extensively.

A recent PhD thesis from Rebecca Wilson, at IBERS, Aberystwyth University, focuses on testing plug planted seed-based hybrids, and has defined the “perfect plug” as well as optimum growing conditions in the glasshouse and the field.

The paper, entitled “Optimizing development for improved yield and yield quality in the perennial bioenergy crop Miscanthus” is a fantastic achievement, which will inform not only future research, but commercial growing conditions in the glasshouse and the field.

Key findings from the report identify a key planting window in the UK for seed-based plugs, which is in April and May. The results also show an optimum size of the plug ‘module’ planted out in the field.

“This study focussed primarily on trialling methods of improving seedling growth under glasshouse conditions and exploring plant interactions with the external environment to optimize and regulate growth before field planting,” explains Rebecca.

“Germinating seedlings in 25% increased soil bulk density in the glasshouse improved seedling vigour and growth speed, leading to more developmentally advanced plants at the point of field planting.

“Results were less clear regarding end of first year yield, suggesting environment and genotype play a larger part in the final yield, than initial morphology. Glasshouse improvements were also seen when seedlings were trialled in larger modules.

Rebecca explains that optimal field planting success was more likely warmer, wetter conditions in mid spring, as opposed to dry, summer conditions which had a negative effect on overall performance.

“Finally, end of year senescence processes were analysed, with the aim of discovering a practical method of encouraging winter dry down of Miscanthus plants, for optimal composition of harvest matter, and to encourage good spring re-growth the following year,” says Rebecca.

Building on the knowledge gained from Rebecca’s PhD, researchers at IBERS are continuing to test and perfect the process of Miscanthus plug planting on new and improved Miscanthus genotypes.

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