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Farmers with ‘problem fields’ urged to try growing miscanthus for biomass plants

Norfolk farmer David Sargent in a field of miscanthus

Norfolk farmer David Sargent in a field of miscanthus

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Farmers with marginal, low-yielding problem fields have been encouraged to explore whether the energy crop miscanthus could provide a profitable solution.

Norfolk arable farmers and Gressingham Duck producers David and Christopher Sargent, have been successfully growing miscanthus for five years on land which previously failed to yield.

They are inviting other growers to see the results by opening their farm, at Morningthorpe near Long Stratton, to visitors on October 29.

David Sargent said: “We’ve tried growing a variety of different crops on my awkward fields, but they actually became a cost to the farm business because they were so inefficient.

“So we were bold and tried miscanthus and haven’t looked back. We now farm 18.5 hectares of miscanthus on our marginal land, and it’s making a reliable income.

“The crop was first planted in ‘Barren Field’ in 2010. It’s an apt name because it’s historically been barren by nature. We tried barley in it, then grass, but it was eaten by rabbits. It had been a problem field for years. But for the past five years, we’ve been successfully growing miscanthus in it and the rabbits don’t like it, once it’s established.

“Because the crop yields are better each year, the returns keep going up. Input costs are minimal, and it’s a hardy perennial so you aren’t needing to re-plant annually.

“Since 2013 tonnages by field have increased by an average of 33pc and this should keep rising until maturity.

“For farmers looking to diversify into better crops for marginal land, miscanthus is a no-brainer.

“If you have a field that doesn’t do well, plant miscanthus because it’s a good steady income. We grow it on three different soil types, it fits really well into the arable rotation because it’s harvested from March to April, and you can use the machinery you’re not using at other key times of the year.”

The farm walk is hosted by purchasing group Anglia Farmers and Lincolnshire-based Terravesta – a company aiming to establish miscanthus as the UK’s main home-grown resource for biomass energy plants.

Terravesta supplies the rhizomes for its growers to plant the crop, and buys back the bales – destined for biomass pelleting – under ten-year, index-linked contracts.

The farm walk at Friars Farm, Morningthorpe, near Long Stratton, starts at 10.30am on October 29. For more details and bookings, see www.terravesta.com, email helenh@terravesta.com or call Alison Fisher on 01522 731873.

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