When you’ve tried different cereal crops to combat establishment issues due to dry land and blackgrass resistance, without success, it’s reassuring to know there are profitable alternatives out there that conquer the problem.
Arable and beef cattle farmer, and pub owner, Mark Richardson, has been growing miscanthus on some of his ‘problem land’ since 2012, when he first planted 18 hectares of the crop.
He’ll be hosting a farm walk, on February 25, at Baston, Peterborough, to show other growers what’s been a viable solution for him.
“I planted miscanthus on land that was formerly in an arable crop rotation, but land that’s prone to drought, had blackgrass issues, and therefore establishment limitations.
“We had excellent establishment with miscanthus, because we put a lot of work into ensuring the land was prepared well for planting. We ploughed it in the autumn, and waited for a warm dry spell the following spring, when we cultivated the soil well to make a good seed bed,” says Mark.
According to Mark, because the crop is planted once, but goes on for over 20 years, with new cane harvested annually, it’s been a fantastic solution to his problem land so far. “The only thing we had to be aware of were weeds early on, and the presence of deer, hares and rabbits, who love the young shoots. For this the crop needs a pre- and post-emergence total herbicide application, and for the pests, some of the land required fencing off.
“Once it’s established there are no issues, and the blackgrass is eliminated because the high canopy of the crop out competes it,” he says.
Usually the crop is harvested three years after it’s planted, but Mark harvested his in year two, during 2014. “We harvested approximately 5.5 tonnes per hectare in 2014, I believe this is down to successful establishment, and then in 2015 the yield doubled to 11.5 tonnes per hectare.
“It’s on contract to miscanthus specialist, Terravesta, who pays approximately £74 a tonne. My margin last year was around £618 per hectare, which I’m pleased with, considering ongoing commodity price volatility. The return is also index-linked, and because crop yields go up each year, this pay-back should increase,” he adds.
Mark urges other farmers interested in planting miscanthus, to speak to other producers growing it on similar land types. “The farm walk I’m hosting is an opportunity for other growers interested in diversifying into energy crops to come along, see the miscanthus for themselves and ask questions so that they can make an informed decision about whether it’s a viable option for them,” he says.
Miscanthus farm walk at Thetford Farm, Baston, held by kind permission of Mark Richardson – followed by lunch at his pub, The White Horse.
Date and time: February 25, 10.30 – 2.00 pm
Address: Thetford House Farm, Baston, Peterborough, PE6 9NU
Format: Coffee and registration, followed by a presentation from Terravesta, a tour of the farm and a light lunch at The White Horse, Baston, PE6 9PE