What is Miscanthus?
Miscanthus is a large, fast-growing, easy to plant and harvest grass plant.
It’s perhaps more commonly known as Elephant Grass and although it’s native to much hotter Asian climes, it has been introduced to the UK very successfully, originally as an ornamental. More recently, Miscanthus has been shown to be a highly sustainable, renewable energy crop. The changes required to UK heat and power generation mean that the demand for such crops is increasing and will continue to do so. Miscanthus meets the energy industry’s requirements because it’s fast growing, it has low mineral content and it’s very high yielding. The variety used for energy crop growing isn’t capable of spreading through seed distribution so it’s non-invasive, so along with all its environmental benefits, it’s a very compelling choice for farmland diversification.
Unlike SRC Willow, Miscanthus is harvested annually but also requires warmer conditions for peak yields. Similarly to Willow, however, it has a long lifespan of over 20 years, making Miscanthus a long term, environmentally friendly, low maintenance investment decision. Its first year of growth won’t produce a meaningful crop, so it’s mowed and the cuttings left on the field. It will be providing an economically viable harvest every year thereafter.
Miscanthus can be planted on poor-grade marginal farmland, meaning it won’t be in competition with land used for food production. It is very versatile in terms of soil types. Harvesting takes place between January and May after the leaves have dropped, with high yields of 12-17 tonnes per hectare possible. It produces very low moisture content bales.
A Miscanthus plantation benefits from requiring very little in the way of inputs, as there are no known diseases and almost no pests and the rhizome brings nutrients back into the soil. Herbicides may be required in the establishment phase but very little thereafter. In autumn, when the leaves fall from the stems, there is considerable return of nutrients from decomposing leaf litter. The leaf litter also helps to suppress weed growth and conserve water. This feature means that fertilisers are not required.