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Unlocking the potential of less productive land

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  • 5 min read

Are you interested in the benefits that the low maintenance, highly profitable crop – Miscanthus – offers? …. Read our handy beginners’ guide to find out whether it’s the right diversification option for you…

Miscanthus is a crop that is rapidly growing in popularity with both farmers and landowners. With energy prices continually rising, pressures on energy security mounting and increased need to meet carbon reduction targets, there is a need to find plentiful, clean and secure alternatives to fossil fuels. It is here that UK grown biomass sources, such as Miscanthus, play a crucial role.

Growing miscanthus

Miscanthus is a perennial energy crop that can grow to heights of up to 14 feet and can produce average yields of 12 – 15 tonnes/ha, with average returns considerably higher than arable crops, at £731/ha, based on an average yield over 15 years.

The crop is grown on over 8,000ha of marginal land in the UK and the area is increasing rapidly. This is due to the growing demand for sustainable power, as biomass. And because Miscanthus is harvested in spring time, it doesn’t conflict with peaks in arable crop rotations, but it uses the same harvesting machinery, meaning no extra expense for equipment.

A further benefit to growers is that the crop requires little or no inputs, once established. This is because the root stock, known as the rhizome, recycles nutrients back into the soil, so no nitrogen fertiliser application is required.

As Miscanthus only has to be planted once, is harvested annually, and goes on for 20 + years, growers consider it a long term, low maintenance investment that provides an assured income well into the future. And it’s a crop that takes care of itself.

Expanding the Miscanthus industry at a rapid rate is miscanthus expert Terravesta, a company at the forefront of miscanthus supply chain expertise and research and development. Terravesta works with growers throughout the UK, facilitating planting, providing free agronomic support, securing lucrative markets and offering long term retail index linked contracts.


According to Alex Robinson from Terravesta, the crop looks after itself once it’s established, but it’s essential that growers invest time and effort into successful establishment, as this determines the speed to maturity, ground-fill and overall return.

“It’s vital to prepare the soil well in the autumn before planting the following spring. Heavier clay should be ploughed and subsoiled well in the autumn in order to achieve a fine tilth in the spring. A winter frost will help to further break down the soil,” he says.

“Weed control is crucial when establishing the crop and it’s important that fields are cleared of perennial weeds before planting.

“But it’s important to remember that Miscanthus requires minimal herbicide inputs once established, as the crop suppresses annual weeds such as blackgrass, because the high canopy of the crop out-competes it,” says Alex.

Alex advises that because a Miscanthus crop only needs to be planted once, farmers only have one chance to get it right. “Growers should be discouraged from planting in poor conditions, Miscanthus is a long-term commitment with long term results, so starting off well will obtain the best results.”

A greener future 

The perennial crop has a life cycle of 20+ years. It’s a key player in the renewable energy market and  offers a sustainable form of renewable energy for multiple industries, which are likely to increase in demand over the coming decades.

Miscanthus is central to what is now coined, ‘the global bioeconomy’, being a core feedstock into existing markets for large-scale heat and power generation. Second-generation markets such as biorefining similarly value Miscanthus for advanced end-uses, including degradable bio-plastics, pharmaceuticals, bio-ethanol and biogas production.

“Other energy intensive industries that are actively transitioning towards low carbon also see the benefit of Miscanthus as a substitute to traditional materials, due to its fibrous properties which are already being successfully used in construction, packaging and furniture making,” explains Alex.

With the Welsh government planning to hit ambitious renewable energy targets over the next couple of decades, the demand for sustainable bioenergy sources that conflict little with food production will skyrocket. As a crop that will thrive on less productive fields and land with poor quality soils, Miscanthus is one solution.

Carbon, soil, water heath

Alex Robinson says that Miscanthus has the ability to sequester 2.35 tonnes of CO2 per ha per annum, it has little or no inputs of fertiliser, chemicals, and power, enabling an opportunity to genuinely reduce whole farm emissions.

“It’s helping to decarbonise the agriculture and land use sector, and potentially generates a carbon income, it encourages biodiversity, particularly in soil organisms and invertebrates, but also birds and mammals that feed on them or use the crops for shelter. As well as additional benefits such as flood alleviation, erosion/pollution prevention, soil decontamination and soil life restoration,” adds Alex.

Farmers considering planting the carbon negative crop Miscanthus can now benefit from a finance package to cover virtually all upfront costs for crop establishment, as well as new direct, long-term offtake agreements with end-users, with 10–15-year index-linked annual returns.

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