The Farming Social Hub - a voice for the farming community

The elephant in the room

Observant people driving around the Norfolk countryside might spot a taller than average crop springing up around the county.

The crop is Elephant Grass, a perennial bamboo-like plant that can grow up to 12 ft high and which thrives on unproductive land. It is also a key player in the race to become net carbon negative as it is a potentially good source of bioenergy.

Norfolk farmers are being sought to grow the towering bioenergy crop – Miscanthus to give it its proper name – because it has the potential to yield 15 tonnes per hectare.

Miscanthus is already established on more than 7,000 hectares of marginal land in the UK, and is thought to have the potential to contribute significantly to the UK’s 2050 “net zero” emissions target.

And, in the next nine years, crop specialist Terravesta is seeking to treble the area of miscanthus grown as a feedstock for the biomass renewable power plant at Snetterton. Terravesta was recently awarded more than £150,000 of funding through the government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme to increase the planted area of miscanthus to help contribute to net zero targets.

Chief operating officer Alex Robinson said: “We are looking for miscanthus growers in Norfolk to supply Snetterton Renewable Energy Plant.

At the University of Hohenheim in Germany, a study separately measured the two simultaneous carbon cycles of miscanthus – the biomass growing above ground which recycles the carbon produced through planting, harvesting and burning the crop for renewable electricity, and the underground rhizome and decaying leaf litter which fixes and stores carbon each year as it grows.

Dr Jason Kam, Terravesta research and development manager, said the results could help farmers accurately calculate the carbon sequestration of their crops.

‘There has been a lack of understanding on how carbon is evaluated, and many unsubstantiated figures used,’ he said.