The potential for miscanthus to thrive on traditionally ‘difficult land’ is being showcased at a farm walk at a Terravesta hosted event on December 3, on Colin Webb’s farm, in Kynnersley, Shropshire.
The 202-hectare farm is largely dedicated to growing the crop. “Before planting miscanthus, the farm was contracted out and we were growing potatoes, oil seed rape, and sugar beet. We struggled to make a big enough margin on these crops on the difficult land,” says Colin.
He had reached a stage where he wanted to take the farming back in hand, with minimal input needed. He first planted 30 hectares of miscanthus in 2004. This was as a result of going to a miscanthus farm walk in Herefordshire, when the crop was a very new option.
“Miscanthus was the perfect crop for the difficult land. Since 2004 we’ve planted another 134 hectares of it, and it suits us perfectly. The market has grown, and the price has steadily risen year on year,” says Colin.
“It’s proven to be extremely hardy. In 2007, the fields flooded during the unprecedented rainfall in June, and the crop stood in three foot of water for the best part of a month. At this time of year, miscanthus is at a crucial stage of annual growth, and despite this, we harvested it the following February. We lost some yield, and it was more brittle, but the crop survived.
“Had we still been farming potatoes in those flooded fields, it would have significantly affected our bottom line,” he says. “This year we harvested 1,400 tonnes, I get £65 per tonne and my costs are £25 per tonne, so I’m getting £40 per tonne back.
Traditionally we’ve sold all of our crop to a local poultry producer, but now we contract some of the area with Terravesta, for biomass pelleting, on a long term contract,” he says.
Colin’s learned a lot about the crop over the years, and he’s clear that it needs careful management, even though it requires no inputs. “Roughly, 60% of our soil is black peat, and 40% is mineral red sandy soil, with some being a mix of both. We make sure that we apply a total herbicide once a year to keep it clean. This is very important, especially on the peat soil that throws up a lot of weeds.
“It would be interesting to have a soil analysis done, because we had potato cyst nematodes before, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t any now. We also had blackgrass on the land, and now there’s none, because the canopy of the crop out-competes it.
“I’d urge growers in the area to come to the farm walk and find out about what’s been a very lucrative solution for us, with minimal inputs. It’s a great chance to ask questions and work out whether it’s a viable option for your farm,” adds Colin.
Miscanthus farm walk at The Buttery farm, Kynnersley, Telford, Shropshire, TF6 6EG by kind permission of Colin and Sheila Webb.
Date and time: 3 December, 10.30 – 14.00
Address: The Buttery, Kynnersley, Telford, Shropshire, TF6 6EG
Format: Coffee and registration, followed by a presentation from Terravesta, a tour of the farm and a light lunch