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East Anglia Future 50

New Snetterton power station fuels rising demand for miscanthus energy crops, says Terravesta

PUBLISHED: 13:59 21 September 2017 | UPDATED: 08:51 22 September 2017

David Sargent with his crop of miscanthus. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

David Sargent with his crop of miscanthus. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

Norfolk's new biomass power plant is fuelling an increased demand for energy crops of miscanthus to be grown in the county.

The Snetterton Renewable Energy Plant is now officially open. Picture: Sonya Duncan.The Snetterton Renewable Energy Plant is now officially open. Picture: Sonya Duncan.

The £173m Snetterton Renewable Energy Plant, situated off the A11 between Attleborough and Thetford, officially opened last week, generating an estimated 44MWh of electricity every hour by burning straw, supplemented by woodchips and miscanthus.

Miscanthus, also known as “elephant grass”, is a perennial bamboo-like plant which thrives on unproductive land, growing to 12 feet high with the potential to yield 15 tonnes per hectare.

Lincolnshire-based biomass firm Terravesta, which manages the supply into the power station, said the increased requirement means more planting is needed in Norfolk for the renewable energy crop which can give farmers a return of more than £900 per hectare from a mature yield.

Operations manager Alex Robinson said Terravesta was currently working with more than 265 farms on long-term, fixed-price contracts, but needed to take on many more to meet the uplift in demand.

Alex Robinson, operations manager at TerravestaAlex Robinson, operations manager at Terravesta

“Terravesta has a 15-year contract to ramp up supply to 25,000 tonnes into Snetterton Power Plant, which is roughly 10pc of the total supply into the plant,” he said. “We also have a 14-year contract to supply Brigg Renewable Energy Power Plant in Lincolnshire.

“The target for 2018 spring planting is 500 hectares, and this will double to 1,000 hectares in 2019. We have huge ambitions, and we’re making continued investment into new markets for the crop, which include large scale power generation, and as a fuel for the wider commercial energy market.”

The company has invited potential growers to learn about the crop at a farm walk at Morningthorpe near Long Stratton, where farmers David and Christopher Sargent have been successfully growing miscanthus for seven years on fields which have previously failed to yield.

“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,” said David.

David Sargent with his crop of miscanthus. Picture: ANTONY KELLYDavid Sargent with his crop of miscanthus. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“The fields were making a loss. So we were bold and tried miscanthus and haven’t looked back. We now farm 18.5 hectares of it on our marginal land, and it’s making a reliable income. This year, the total average yield was 8.9 tonnes per hectare.

“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.

“For farmers looking to diversify into better crops for marginal land, miscanthus is a no-brainer. I’d say be bold and make a decision based on the facts, and come along on the day to find out about it.”

• Terravesta’s miscanthus farm walk will be held from 10.30am on October 5 at Friars Farm, Morningthorpe, NR15 2QL. The event is free of charge, but bookings must be made via the website or by emailing jacobd@terravesta.com.

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