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3 August 2013 04:32:38 |

Northamptonshire farmers reap secure returns from marginal land


Peter Hicks

Peter Hicks

The owners of a Northamptonshire arable and sheep farm have successfully dedicated a fifth of their land to Miscanthus – and are now enjoying secure, long-term profits, having signed a termed contract with energy crop specialist Terravesta.
Peter Hicks and Joanne De Nobriga made the decision to plant around 20% of their 500-acre Guilsborough farm with Miscanthus in 2006, as a way to make the most of their marginal land at a time when wheat prices were poor. Seven years later, the crop is still flourishing, and the couple continue to reap the benefits of guaranteed financial returns and much-reduced input costs.
Peter Hicks explains: “Wheat prices were very low at the time, so we knew we needed to find a more profitable alternative. We didn’t know much about Miscanthus, but after looking into it we learned that it was a profitable alternative to wheat and could grow well on problem land. We’re not traditionally trained as farmers, so the fact that it was easier to manage than most other arable crops was also an important factor for us. As well as planting it on some of our good land, we decided to try Miscanthus on two of our marginal fields, both with clay-heavy soil that was proving difficult to grow anything in. The crop is still thriving today.
“What’s more, because it’s a perennial crop, Miscanthus doesn’t require spraying or annual ploughing, either – so there are no input costs associated with it once established. It’s financially viable for us, so it just makes sense for us to grow it.”
Through their long-term, index-linked growing contract with Terravesta, Peter and Joanne benefit from best-ever prices and reliable, guaranteed returns. Aside from the financial benefits, the crop’s compatibility with the couple’s lifestyle and farming set-up was another important driver behind their decision to plant.
Peter adds: “We’re not getting any younger, so we didn’t want anything too intense! There are only the two of us on the farm and we’ve also got arable crops and a sheep operation, so we didn’t have the manpower for anything too complicated. Miscanthus fits in easily with our farm; it suits us and it suits our lifestyle. The attractive, long-term index-linked prices from our growing contract with Terravesta give us the reassurance we need, and our representative is excellent. As long as we continue to see profits, we will continue to work with the Terravesta team.”
William Cracroft-Eley, chairman at Terravesta, says: “Planting Miscanthus has proven a fantastic decision for Peter and Joanne – and their case is a sterling example of how the crop can turn problem land into profitable land. As their experience shows, it is the ideal solution for farmers looking for a viable alternative to arable crops, particularly when faced with such a volatile wheat market. As demand for this ‘wonder crop’ as a locally grown, locally burnt biomass fuel source continues to grow, we will be seeing a lot more of it in the future.”
Terravesta is now offering best-ever prices and secure ten-year, RPIX-linked growing contracts. Its new Grower Fuel Loop scheme also offers contracted growers the unprecedented opportunity to buy back pellets as heat from up to 50% of their planting area, at a heavily discounted rate – benefiting from a truly sustainable, homegrown biomass heating resource.
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