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Miscanthus – a profitable crop for flood-prone land

Case Studies

Miscanthus could be a viable option for flood-prone land. It thrives where other crops fail on fields that would otherwise be unprofitable or high risk, and research shows that not only can it grow well in waterlogged areas, but it also provides much needed soil stability, in addition to its energy properties.

The Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University have published the results of a study which concluded that Miscanthus can thrive on waterlogged fields, it provides soil stability and crop yield is not affected by excess water.

Dr Jason Kam, lead author in the study has stated;

“There is no significant difference in yield and other physiological development. Observed height and tiller number have no differences between winter flooded and non-flooded ground.

Because of Miscanthus’ perennial nature, annual planting is not needed. This therefore reduces soil disturbance to a minimum.

The structure of Miscanthus rhizome and root helps to stabilise soils, making it more resilient against flood-caused soil erosion.”

Rob Meadley an East Yorkshire arable farmer, grows 12 hectares of Miscanthus on varying quality, flood-prone land that previously wasn’t delivering a viable return with arable crops. Rob supplies crop specialist, Terravesta, each year.

Rob first planted Miscanthus in March 2012 in good conditions, but this was followed by the wettest April on record, meaning the freshly planted crop was in standing water, and the bad weather hit again in June.

Rob explains that the 2014 harvest was affected by the legacy of flooding and lack of weed control, highlighting that arable crops would “never have survived the conditions that the Miscanthus was exposed to, and we didn’t lose any money on inputs”. As highlighted in the table below, the annual yield quickly recovered, with a harvest of over 13t/ha reported in 2017 and 2020.

  2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Tonnage 9.78 100.66 143.64 157.54 139.94 153.41 159.36 134.61 154.25
Yield (tonnes / ha) 0.81 8.36 11.93 13.08 11.62 12.74 13.24 11.18 12.81

Ultimately, Rob explains that there would not have been another option for a crop on that land which would have been as profitable:

“When we decided to plant Miscanthus, the principle was looking at the whole farm net margin and identifying the risk in this area.

“It wasn’t performing as well as other parts of the farm and Miscanthus was 100% the right decision for it. The only other option for that land would have been environmental grass, but Miscanthus beats this hands down from a net margin point of view.” 

The chairman of Terravesta, Mr William Cracroft-Eley, planted a Miscanthus crop on flood-prone fields in 2015, having previously grown it in other areas on the farm. Despite being under 4 feet of water the crop remained standing when it came to the first harvest

Mr Cracroft-Eley took the decision to leave the crop until the following year, resulting in a successful harvest. He commented:

“It was a win-win situation, because no damage was done to the land, no money was spent on contractors, it wasn’t a loss, because we harvested the crop the following year with the new growth and we hadn’t spent any money on inputs because no fertiliser was applied.” 

“Miscanthus does well on all types of land, and like any crop, it does better on more favourable land. But, it also thrives where other crops fail, and this could be for numerous reasons, and in this case it’s become an ideal solution to water logged land which would otherwise be unprofitable,” he added.

As well as offering long-term, consistent income, and environmental benefits on less productive land, Miscanthus is now more affordable and profitable, thanks to new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) payments. Up to £2645 per year on a 10-hectare Miscanthus crop can be claimed on land classified as a non-horticultural permanent crop.

According to Terravesta the return-on-investment, break-even point is two years earlier thanks to these payments, with the average net return for a 10-hectare crop being £930/ha, which increases each year due to it being retail price index linked.

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