RISING uncertainty in the farming sector is strengthening the business case for growing Miscanthus, due to the 'attractive' long-term contracts available for the crop.

That is the message from AHDB monitor farmer Colin Chappell, who manages 647 hectares of land along the River Ancholme in Brigg, Lincolnshire, and currently grows 26ha of Miscanthus on his unproductive land.

“British farmers are stepping into the unknown," said Mr Chappell. "Our subsidy will disappear and Miscanthus has numerous positive attributes including long-term financial security, robust growing markets and environmental benefits.

“With Miscanthus you have to take a long-term view and look at the guaranteed returns available from an upfront investment. Farming is shifting rapidly, and we must change our approach if we want to stay viable.”

Mr Chappell supplies Miscanthus specialist Terravesta with whole bales which fuel Brigg Renewable Energy Plant, which is under a mile away from his farm, on a long-term contract. Terravesta itself has a 14-year contract with the power station, which in turn has long-term government support.

Terravesta's Jacob Duce explained: “Miscanthus is a hardy perennial crop, with an average return of £562/ha over a 15-year period, and long-term fixed index linked contracts are available with Terravesta to grow and sell it. It takes approximately four to five years to make the money back, but by year five growers are looking at approximately £700/ha net margin."

The benefits of Miscanthus far outweigh the upfront investment added Mr Chappell: “I don’t worry about blackgrass on the fields of Miscanthus, the leaf litter and high canopy combats it. The crop is low input, it stacks up nicely financially, it’s harvested in the spring when the rest of the farm is quiet, it’s carbon negative, it teems with wildlife and I can get 13 tonnes/ha easily on poor grade land, and that’s from a crop planted in 2006. Due to improved rhizome quality and planting techniques, new crops now have 90% establishment on average and are likely to yield at least 15 tonnes/ha.”

On March 21, Mr Chappell will open up his farm to those keen to hear about the crop, for a breakfast farm walk, hosted by Terravesta in partnership with the CLA. To book a place at the free event, and find out more, visit: https://www.terravesta.com/events