Traditional arable farmer Jim Mullock is a miscanthus veteran – well ahead of the curve on the bioenergy crop having planted it first in 2005 – and is now an early adopter of the new varieties coming through from Terravesta.

“When deciding to grow miscanthus we were mindful of the ‘net zero’ ambitions of agriculture and the need for every farm business to take an honest look at its carbon footprint, so with the crop’s carbon sequestration potential and undeniable wildlife benefits, the investment was justifiable,” explains Mr Mullock, who farms in North Shropshire.

“Having discussed the merits of growing miscanthus with my agronomist we agreed it was a good opportunity to ‘put something back’,” he said.

Having recently removed a 16-year-old miscanthus crop, he has seen real improvements in the soil: “We were pleased to see how fertile the two difficult fields have become. As you might expect, the organic matter readings are now high and the soil is alive again.”

In the spring of 2020, Jim planted 36ha of Terravesta's new Athena variety, and the crop is looking healthy. “Aesthetically it looks remarkable when it's senescing and it’s very satisfying to watch it grow through the seasons," he said. "The 36 ha we planted is part of a larger traditional arable rotation, and with the increased challenges of growing oilseed rape, miscanthus should bring a lot of positives to the business."

He reckoned that the new Athena crop looked better than his previous miscanthus giganteus planted in 2005. “Having had previous experience of growing the crop on heavy clay ground 16 years ago it was clear this last spring just how much the planting process and varieties have improved.”

Athena promises to deliver a higher yield than standard miscanthus giganteus, and is also more uniform so yields are more stable and the biomass quality improved. The variety has undergone rigorous selection and development to ensure that it’s tolerant to different growing conditions.

Jim has a long-term contract with Terravesta, and will receive index -linked, fixed-price income annually from the crop after the first harvest in year two. Terravesta assists farmers with planting, agronomic support through the crop’s life, then buys-back the harvested bales each year to supply a growing number of markets, including large scale power generation, livestock and equine bedding, domestic eco-fuels and emerging markets.

“I do believe the cane has further end-use potential, and I hope that farmers will be rewarded for storing carbon on their farms, with added potential for carbon trading in future,” added Jim.