7 May 1999

Elephant grass offers profitable alternative

By Tom Linton

TWENTY West Country farmers seeking to diversify into a profitable alternative crop are putting their faith in miscanthus elephant grass.

As shareholders in new company Bical they are seeking to exploit the plants potential as an environmentally friendly crop in Britain and abroad.

Within 18 months the company expects to be growing 8000ha (20,000 acres) of the high dry matter biomass crop which grows to 3m (10ft) within two seasons.

Its most profitable use so far is as chopped poultry litter. But, trails are at an advanced stage into using it as a cheap substitute for wood in paper pulp.

Bical already has an agreement with two Finnish companies, Chempolis Oy and CTS Engineering, to design and build a factory in the Midlands to produce paper pulp chemically at about half the cost of wood pulp.

"Already, a leading manufacturer is evaluating its use as a constituent of medium density fibreboard," adds David Croxton, an agronomist and farmer who formed Bical with City backing.

Bical also has contracts to supply baled Miscanthus to power stations under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation which guarantees premium prices for green power. Miscanthus would be bought at £35-40/t.

In conjunction with John Harvey, a former ADAS scientist, Mr Croxton has spent seven years assessing the possibilities of Miscanthus on his 150ha (370 acre) farm near Kingsbridge in Devon.

To ensure farmers have a market, Bical has contracted to buy back Miscanthus cane at a guaranteed minimum price for 12-15 years from those it supplies with rhizomes. The price would be a pool price to take account of the different outlets.

At present, Miscanthus is ineligible for grants, but can be grown and harvested for energy use on set-aside land.

Hugh Loxton, one of Bicals farmer-shareholders and a director, has a trial area of about 4ha (10 acres) at his 250ha (620-acre) Lodge Farm, near Taunton. "I anticipate growing a substantially bigger acreage, because of the encouraging yields and the end uses that are appearing." &#42

MISCANTHUSLIFT-OFF

&#8226 8000ha crop in 18 months.

&#8226 Allowed on set-aside.

&#8226 Wide range of uses.

&#8226 Contracts on offer.

&#8226 15t/ha dry yield.

&#8226 £600/ha gross output.

Typical yields

Miscanthus typically yields 15t/ha (6t/acre) in southern Britain, says Mr Croxton. It has an energy value to power generators worth about £40/t dry matter. "At 15t/ha you have an output of £600/ha, minus harvesting, planting and transport costs."

Kite clears birds away

GOT a problem with birds? Cant keep your kite up? Then you need an Allsopp Helikite, says Sandy Allsopp of manufacturer Allsopp Helikites.

"The kites stay up in winds from force 0-6. Rain may ground them temporarily in calm conditions, but they soon dry out again," he says.

US trials with the lighter-than-air helium filled kite bird-scarers cleared gulls from landfill sites. Similar success has been recorded with pigeons on peas in Ireland. The pesky peckers do not become accustomed to the kite either, preventing return to the field, he adds.

One kite covers 6-10ha (15-25 acres), depending on bird-crop combination. Cost is £113 + VAT each, or £392 + VAT for a pack of four. Helium widget packs cost £29.95 for a 21-week supply to four kites.

Pictures of the kite in action can be seen on website www.AllsoppHelikites.com or phone 01725-518750. &#42