The fast-growing energy crop, Miscanthus Giganteus, also known as elephant grass has a growing demand amongst farmers for the use as an industrial feedstock to use for co-firing in electricity production.
In Norfolk England, Steve Bacon, general manager of International Energy Crops addressed farmers at a Miscanthus Giganteus presentation and said, ““This is a green crop. It is good for biodiversity and will help to keep the lights on.” Bacon said the demand for the energy-crop came from power stations including Ely and Drax in Yorkshire.
Several farmers in Eastern England and especially Norfolk have planted about 10, 000 acres of Miscanthus and were told a precision approach to planting the crop was essential to long-term profitability.
Andy Lee, head of agronomy for Shropshire-based IEC, said “the key to obtaining sustainable yields over at least 20 years was good establishment, protection from rabbits and hares and weed control.” Miscanthus Giganteus can achieve yields of about 20 tonnes per hectare, which could deliver net returns of more than £1,000 ha. At 10t yield, net returns would be around £465 ha and 15t around £735 ha.
A grant from Natural England of 50pc was available towards the investment to establish the crop that cost around £2,100 per hectare. Once the crop is established it is harvested between January and April and once the crop is pelleted and delivered to a power station, it was typically included at a rate of between 10 and a maximum of 20pc of the total feedstock.
Bacon said the two proposed pelleting plants, one in Shropshire and another in Swaffham will boost the production and further reduce the carbon footprint of transport. He pointed out that in Norfolk and Suffolk, a plant producing 20,000 tonnes of pellets, would require about 1,000 acres of miscanthus. He said, “Miscanthus is the most exciting crop in the world and your yield almost irrespective of the weather will be 10pc either way. Once you hit your 15, 18 20 tonnes per hectare, that’s what you’re going to get. The future looks bright, we already have crops planted and we are looking to double the area next year.”