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The seeds to grow a low carbon economy

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Offsetting the need for imported oil, gas and coal has never been more crucial. The latest projections state that the need for feasible alternatives to reduce global warming is now at a critical level. The bioenergy crop Miscanthus is playing a key part in mitigating carbon dioxide emissions in the UK and beyond, and it’s now on the cusp of being rapidly upscaled.

Terravesta is entering the final year of a ground-breaking research project which will see Miscanthus grown from seed, rather than the traditional rhizome.

The project, named MUST ‘Miscanthus Upscaling Technology’, is led by Terravesta, with Agri-Tech Catalyst funding, and aims to upscale Miscanthus towards seed-based propagation, improving crop characteristics, yield and consistency, and presenting huge environmental benefits.

As a result of an extensive traditional breeding programme, there are three candidate hybrid crosses, narrowed down from thousands of crosses between different accessions from Asia.

The new hybrids are being upscaled in the MUST project and are displaying outstanding characteristics in commercial trials, according to Sam Buckby, our lead field technician. “Prior to winter harvest, our potential commercial seed-based hybrid is looking extremely promising in the field trials. In the first year of growth, the plants are over two metres tall and contain up to 100 stems.”

“With improved agronomic techniques we achieved up to 90% establishment on heavy-clay rich land otherwise unsuitable for arable use,” says Sam.

“The 2017 seed production was completed early this year, and again looks very encouraging. With improved knowledge of threshing and cleaning the seeds, the final seed yield shows great potential.

“In addition to the existing hybrid we have tested over the previous year, another potential new hybrid was identified this year and is ready for pre-commercial testing in 2018,” adds Sam.

Terravesta is working on the seed breeding programme alongside world leading plant scientists, biotechnologists, ministerial departments and other commercial contributors.

“Without doubt, the energy market demand is expanding, and this will continue. Terravesta’s interest is in expanding the market, but also in expanding value through cascading multiple products from the same material,” says William Cracroft-Eley, Terravesta chairman.

In the meantime, planting Miscanthus from rhizome using well tried and tested techniques and agronomy, can deliver attractive and reliable net margins for years to come, and farmers are offered a long-term fixed price contract, as Terravesta is delivering market certainty with long term, index-linked grower contracts.