Trials of a new green energy crop for the UK – Silphium perfoliatum, rebranded as 'sunergy' – are now underway, with its backers claiming 'vast advantages' for the plant.

A low input/high output crop, sunergy is claimed to be suited to wide range of growing sites, and being a perennial plant, has roots that continue to grow year-on-year while the soil remains undisturbed, allowing networks of beneficial microbes to flourish, increasing the amount of sequestered carbon.

Trials in Kent, north Lincolnshire and South Wales are testing the performance of the crop, which is also known as compass or cup plant, and is a member of the Asteraceae family, with a 10–15-year life span. Once established it is reportedly resilient, reliable, and unaffected by major pests or diseases.

Sunergy can be used as a ruminant feed and an anaerobic digestion fuel, with a dry matter yield similar to a good crop of maize silage.

Nick Green, agronomist at Newtone Agriscapes, which is the crop's UK distributor, explained: “I’m from a practical farming background and have worked within the seed trade for 10 years as a technical sales specialist. I specialise in forage and regenerative agriculture and in agronomy for unusual seed crops. My approach to agronomy is to use biological and cultural methods before heading to the spray shed. I discovered sunergy by chance in conversation with a colleague and I quickly realised I had hit upon something unique.

"I’m extremely excited about sunergy as a crop type, not only because of its benefits to the grower but for the impact on our environment and farmland wildlife. The gas yields are approximately 80% of that of maize but, due to the low input nature of the crop, there is an economic advantage to growing sunergy over a ten-year period."

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“Sunergy is a more consistent crop than maize so budgeting for production is made easier without concerns of over and under production of feed stocks, meaning less land rents or outsourcing production,” he added.

The crop's wider usages are still being explored. Work is underway to develop use of its fibre in packaging and to use its proteins in products such as cosmetics. Sunergy is also suitable for use in vegan friendly foods.

Rhys Jenkins, who is running the South Wales trial at Model Farm at Fonmon, near Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, added: “Like Nick, I’m committed to farming methods that benefit wildlife and the environment, and the advantages offered by sunergy are vast. As a crop that couples so many environmental gains with cost savings and the potential to create further lucrative income streams, sunergy really is the Holy Grail of modern farming. I’m looking forward to developing our use of it over the coming year.”