Landowners interested in applying for an Energy Crops Scheme establishment grant have until 31 July 2006 to submit their application, according to the Rural Development Service (RDS).

The scheme closes at the end of this year, but with many applications taking up to four months to complete, due to the need for environmental assessments to be carried out, the July deadline has been set, explains the RDS’s Trevor Mansfield.

“To receive funding under the current arrangements, landowners need to submit their applications, together with supporting documentation, in time for approval to be granted during the current programme.”

Energy crops are likely to feature in the next Rural Development Programme, which runs from 2007 to 2013, but this is still subject to European Commission approval, he says.

Miscanthus and short-rotation coppice are the two main energy crops in the UK, although the miscanthus area is about five to 10 times greater compared with SRC.

“Four of the largest electricity generators in the UK have now indicated their intentions to use large quantities of miscanthus cane,” adds Bical’s Mike Carver.

“Current orders held by Bical to supply these contracts require over 500,000t of cane per year to be delivered to the power companies.”

Under the existing Energy Crops Scheme, a grant of £920/ha is available to help growers fund miscanthus planting and with all the power contracts being index linked, the crop can regularly produce net margins of £130-200/ha, he claims.

Miscanthus is a perennial grass planted from rhizomes in the spring and can be grown on a wide range of soil types, Dr Carver says.

Some weed control will be required in the first and possibly second year, but after that no further inputs are required.

“The rhizomes lie in the soil about four to five inches below the surface with small roots going deeper to seek water and nutrients.

The shallow rooting does not damage drainage systems and if for any reason the crop needs to be removed, it is a simple job using a glyphosate-based product and the field can be returned to arable production within weeks.”

Typically, miscanthus is harvested from late March to early May using standard forage harvesting equipment and because it is cut at 15-20% moisture, no drying is required, he says.

Yields of 10-18t/ha are possible and crops should remain productive for 20-30 years.

Growers considering applying for an ECS Establishment Grant are advised to contact their local RDS office as soon as possible.
See www.defra.gov.uk/rds

paul.spackman@rbi.co.uk