While world wheat prices continue to sit at low levels, and pressure is on to meet the three crop rule, arable farmers are looking even more closely at what crops offer viable alternatives.
Miscanthus, the long-term energy crop, is one that is catching a lot of attention, both because of its ability to offer great returns, and because of interest in energy production from farmland.
Northamptonshiremember Bruce Wilkinson is one who has been growing the crop for 10 years, starting with just 9ha. Today he grows 182ha, and is keen to welcome local producers to his Glapthorn Farm near Northampton in June, to demonstrate his success.
Places for this farm walk on June 18 are being booked up fast.
“Ten years ago, when the wheat price was down to £60/tonne, we were making a thundering loss,” says Bruce.
“Then in 2004, a 2ha wheat field flooded and we lost the crop. We also had real issues with black grass. With wheat prices so low, and the pressure of a bad season, we knew we needed to change.
“In spring 2005 we planted 9ha of miscanthus, and we had a successful harvest in 2007. We planted it in marginal land down by the river, and even though it hasn’t flooded again, the beauty of miscanthus is that it can thrive in waterlogged land,” he says.
Now, a large part of the farm is down to miscanthus, with it grown on seven different soil types, from very heavy or chalky soil, to earth full of pieces of limestone. Bruce works with Terravesta, who manage the whole miscanthus supply chain, offering secure returns and expert support.
“To growers thinking about planting miscanthus, I’d tell them to ‘go for it’. It’s the perfect crop for any marginal land that’s otherwise not doing a lot. But it’s not a gap filler, it’s a long term plan, because the same crop can be harvested year after year, for up to 20 years after planting,” says Bruce.
“Planting miscanthus can provide a good substantial base for growers. When you plant 15ha of miscanthus on marginal land, you’ll have a fair idea of how much income that land will generate.
“In 2014, our margin on miscanthus was the same as the remaining wheat we had, and this was a good year for wheat. The wheat had expensive input costs, and once it was harvested we’d already spent half of the profit made. Miscanthus has fixed and relatively low input costs, and we have a fixed price per tonne when we sell the bales back to Terravesta. I haven’t had an overdraft for the past five years, and I’m so thankful I’m not in conventional farming, the prices being what they are today,” adds Bruce.
The Terravesta farm walk will showcase the compelling, immediate and long-term commercial opportunity miscanthus presents. The Terravesta team will educate visitors about how to grow the crop, the market for it, what growers will get for it, and why it’s a sustainable and financially viable option. There’ll also be a chance to ask questions, talk to other growers, and take a look around the farm.
William Cracroft-Eley, miscanthus grower and Terravesta chairman, is enthusiastic about places already being booked up. “Our farm walks are popular and offer growers a unique opportunity to meet face-to-face with the experts from Terravesta. The team will answer any specific queries and provide professional advice on all aspects of successful miscanthus growing and long term, fixed price contracts and markets.”
Miscanthus farm walk at Netherdyke Farm
Held by kind permission of Bruce and Liz Wilkinson
Date and time: 18th June 2015, 10.30 am
Address: Netherdyke Farm, Glapthorn, Oundle, PE8 5BJ
Format: Coffee and registration, followed by a presentation from Terravesta, a tour of the farm and a light lunch