Early trials are underway of a perennial crop which seed breeders say could become a viable alternative to maize.
The compass or cup plant is a member of the Asteraceae family. With a lifespan of 10-15 years, it is said to be resilient, reliable and unaffected by major pests or diseases – and can be used as a ruminant feed or fuel for anaerobic digestion.
Nick Green, agronomist at Newtone Agriscapes, which is the UK distributor for the compass variety Sunergy. The crop’s complex root structure means it can act as a carbon sink while improving soil health – offering significant benefits.
Range of sites
Sunergy is suited to range of growing sites. Being a perennial plant, its roots continue to grow year on year while the soil remains undisturbed. Its performance is being tested in Kent, north Lincolnshire and South Wales.
The crop’s root system also loosens the soil and supplies it with oxygen, causing it to absorb more water and reducing the risk of erosion. it has a low fertiliser and input requirement, making it cost effective and good for the environment.
Sunergy’s dry matter yield is similar to a good crop of maize silage – making it attractive for AD energy production. Gas yields are approximately 80% of that of maize but its low input requirement gives it an economic advantage, says Mr Green.
“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.”
Harvested for 10-15 years, Sunergy’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, says Mr Green.