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West Norfolk farm walk will showcase record-breaking miscanthus crop

Norfolk farmer Bill Lewis with his record-breaking miscanthus crop.

Norfolk farmer Bill Lewis with his record-breaking miscanthus crop.

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A Norfolk farmer will showcase his record-breaking miscanthus crop by hosting a farm walk near King’s Lynn later this month.

Bill Lewis, who grows the towering energy crop at Abbey Farm in East Walton, has achieved a yield of 8.82 tonnes per hectare – the largest documented so far for a second-year harvest.

Miscanthus, also known as “elephant grass”, is a perennial bamboo-like plant which can grow to heights of 15ft.

Typically, the first harvest comes three years after planting, and is around half this tonnage. The yield increases each year, to mature crops yielding 12–18 tonnes per hectare for the rest of the plant’s 20-year life.

Visitors to the free event will be able to view the miscanthus, just before harvest, after it has finished drying out.

Mr Lewis attributed the bumper yield to careful planning, preparation and aftercare for the first 12 months after planting.

“We’re well ahead of our budgeted figures with this increased yield, and the harvest for 2016 should be double this record,” he said.

Andy Lee is farms advisory manager for Lincolnshire-based miscanthus specialist Terravesta, who has worked with the farm to establish its crop.

“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 said.

“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.”

Mr Lewis said his contract with Terravesta brought a return of £73.80 per tonne, for a 133-tonne harvest.

“We really didn’t expect to be making over £8,000 in our second year,” he said. “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.”

The farm walk at Abbey Farm in East Walton takes place from 10.30am to 2pm on January 28. Bookings can be made online at www.terravesta.com, by emailing helenh@terravesta.com or calling Alison Fisher on 01522 731873.

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