Miscanthus growers reassured of crop’s future

Energy crop specialists have rushed to reassure growers there is a positive future for miscanthus in the UK, despite the uncertainty caused when Bical went into administration a fortnight ago.

Miscanthus rhizome producer and harvesting contractor H L Wilson says it has invested £5m in rhizome multiplication across its UK farms, despite ending its supply contract with Bical in September.

It has recently formed a new company, International Energy Crops, which aims to increase the use of precision planting for miscanthus and build supply chain links with energy companies.

IEC also plans to invest £8m in rhizome lifting and planting technology, with an overall aim to increase the planted area across Europe to 20,000ha by 2012. “Around 1000ha will be planted in England next year, but even modest predictions suggest UK demand alone will be 5000ha by 2011 and 8000ha by 2012,” the firm’s Nick Pascoe said.

“There’s a huge appetite for biomass and I’m sure there’s a much bigger demand out there, providing power companies can get the material in the right form.”

IEC, which also has a 40ha rhizome farm in France, is appealing to farmers that have applied for the Energy Crops Scheme to book a farm/soils review as early as possible to ensure planting goes ahead.

Meanwhile, Drax Power has appointed farm business consultants Brown & Co to advise farmers interested in supplying biomass to the company.

The consultancy agreement is part of Drax’s Green Shoots programme and will provide growers with advice on securing grants and other financial support available under Drax’s “field to furnace” advice service.

Drax has been co-firing biomass alongside coal for several years and is currently building another facility to increase the plant’s co-firing capacity to 500MW, or 12.5% of the total output. When complete, the firm says it will be the largest co-firing project in the world.

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