Soil organic matter is improving on a north Shropshire farm after grower Jim Mullock planted miscanthus to help reduce his carbon footprint.
Mr Mullock, who farms at Whitchurch, planted 36ha of Terravesta Athena miscanthus in spring 2020. The investment was justifiable because of the crop’s carbon sequestration potential – as well as benefits to soil and wildlife, he explains.
Soil quality on two heavy clay fields was drastically improved by a 16-year-old miscanthus crop recently removed from another part of the farm. But the new variety looks to be performing even better than the miscanthus giganteus planted in 2005, suggests Mr Mullock.
“We were pleased to see how fertile the two difficult fields have become,” he says. As you might expect, the organic matter readings are now high and the soil is alive again.
Terravesta Athena is higher yielding than standard miscanthus giganteus. It has undergone rigorous selection and development to ensure that it’s tolerant to different growing conditions. It is also more uniform so yields are more stable and biomass quality improved.
“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.
Miscanthus has other positives too, says Mr Mullock – especially around its ability to sequester carbon and the ongoing challenges many farmers have when trying to grow a successful crop of oilseed rape.
“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. Having discussed the merits of growing miscanthus with my agronomist, we agreed it was a good opportunity.”
The crop is grow on a long-term contract which sees miscanthus specialist Terravesta buy back the harvested bales each year. It means Mr Mullock receives an index-linked fixed-price income annually from the crop after its second year.