Norfolk farmer Bill Lewis has seen a record yield on his miscanthus harvest this year, and yet the crop was not quite two years old.
Achieving a tremendous 8.82 tonnes per hectare, the result is the largest documented on a second year crop to date.
“We’re well ahead of our budgeted figures with this increased yield, and next year it should double.”Norfolk farmer Bill Lewis
Typically, the first miscanthus harvest comes three years after planting, and is around half this tonnage. This yield increases each year, to mature crops yielding 12 – 18 tonnes per hectare for the rest of its 20 year plus crop life.
The trend to harvesting just two years post planting is likely to increase according to miscanthus specialists Terravesta, and offers growers a quicker return.
“We’re well ahead of our budgeted figures with this increased yield, and next year it should double,” says Bill Lewis.
“In 2013 we made the decision to plant 15 hectares of a field that historically was poor permanent pasture, prone to flooding. We tried growing winter wheat, sugar beet and linseed, but they all failed.
“It’s the sort of land that’s difficult to establish crops on, due to water logging. The land is low lying, at 20 foot below sea level, so the surrounding land drains into it. This meant we were spending a fortune on preparing the seed beds, and on inputs,” he says.
Bill attributes the bumper miscanthus yield to careful planning, planting preparation and aftercare for the first 12 months after planting. “We had 90% establishment, and the support we’ve received from Terravesta has been invaluable. They advised on our herbicide regime, which is very important in the establishment year, and we treated to control twitch grass and meadow grass. We also erected fencing to ward off rabbits, which can be a threat to the crop early on.
“Under contract with Terravesta we got back £73.80 per tonne, less haulage, and harvested 133 tonnes of crop. We didn’t expect to be making over of £8,000 in our second year. And next year the yield should double, with thicker canes and more of them. This year we’ve planted another 15 hectares and will plant another four hectares in the future,” says Bill.
Bill utilised the planting package that Terravesta offers, where rhizomes, and a precision planter are supplied. The farm is also supported with hands on agronomic advice for the duration of the crop’s life.
Andy Lee, Terravesta farms advisory manager, has worked closely with Bill to ensure that the crop establishes well. “Because it’s a crop that goes on for over 20 years, the first year is crucial to get right to ensure you get the best out of it,” he says.
“The key to a successful crop is good soil and seed bed preparation, and the only other management required is a pre- and post-emergence herbicide application and, if the site is prone to rabbits and hares, the crop needs to be fenced off.
“The land has sun exposure and a good water table, which miscanthus loves, but so do weeds. A professional approach is therefore key. When the soil is well prepared, and our recommendations are adopted, growers will harvest huge success with this energy crop on their land,” adds Andy.