Oxfordshire arable manager Mark Wiseman from Manor Farm, Marcham near Abingdon, was struggling with a 25 hectare heavy clay field where blackgrass was becoming resistant to all herbicides, and yields were becoming less and less competitive, making his farm operations unviable.
“It was becoming totally unsustainable,” he says.
“We’d certainly lost the battle against blackgrass after using a number of different herbicides. There was also an issue with waterlogging in the field. Over the years we tried to clear up the drainage to see if we could reduce the flooding, but with the water table so high we knew that we had to think about doing something quite different.
“We bumped into the crop miscanthus at the Cereals event, and at the time we were looking into flax as an option.
“We planted our first crop in 2012, and harvested for the first time in 2015. It was immediately apparent that the blackgrass had been blocked out – it had gone, because the canopy of the miscanthus crop out-competes it.
“Our commitment to the six-year contract with miscanthus specialist, Terravesta, was to establish a good seedbed using a deep plough creating a 4ins tilth with a power harrow so that the rhizomes have the maximum contact.
“Although the first year didn’t yield greatly, producing 95 bales at 600kgs a piece, the moisture content was excellent at 10 percent, which is the level of moisture required for biomass pelleting. The good news is that every year the crop becomes more robust and spreads wider, throwing out more roots and rhizomes. Furthermore it keeps on going for 20 years: all from one root.”
Mark is pleased to be part of growing a crop that looks as though it’s tackled blackgrass in the first instance, and is making money from land that has been challenging, and where nothing else can grow.