Growing Pains of Miscanthus Establishment

  • 27 Oct 2012 4:49 PM
    Message # 1115516
    Like any new crop that makes its way to commercial application there are a number of hurdles to overcome.  Of which are usually realized through experience and unfortunate mistakes. These mistakes increase cost of establishment and add years to realizing peak productivity. All at the producers cost.  Like any vegetative propagated crop there are many variables that play a role in the success or failure. 
    Land preparation, weed control, planting dates, planting conditions, rhizome quality, etc are some of the variables that  play a role in the success of establishment.
    One variable I would like to highlight that plays a significant role in the cost and efficacy of establishment is rhizome quality and price. In the early years cost of vegetative material made it cost prohibitive to establish miscanthus stands. This cost also played a role in the establishment efficacy because growers would put much less than is required into a field to get a good stand. Growers would bring in material from distances that created variables in rhizome quality. Much of this was around improper storage, rhizome size, cultivar, viable bud counts, etc. 
    Today there are local sources of high quality rhizome at very reasonable prices and equipment that is proven to facilitate the on farm production of rhizomes for growers to plant crops at scale.  
    Earlier stands were based of of theoretical planting densities (1/M2) that only worked on small trial plots. Today with prices of vegetative material being cost effective, planting densities of 1.5-2 viable (this is the key viable) rhizomes per M2 with automated planting equipment, bring establishment costs down and earlier yield into play.
    Today it is more about land opportunity cost and land opportunity cost lost that play a role in establishment costs.  With other advancements in companion cropping (ie corn) some of these cash flow issues will be mitigated.  
    Miscanthus is one of the highest yielding perennial grass crops that are available in the market. There are a number of cultivars available in the North American market for different climates. Some of which are public genetics and others that are private that carry royalty streams. Determining the best cultivar for each growing region is critical as well as having pedigree to the genetics. In the early years in the EU miscanthus was thought to be miscanthus. Today there are 1000's of different cultivars identified of which many of them are in our gardens. Ensuring that the original stock you receive has documentation of origin, pedigree,  long term yield/ trial data, and purity is critical. Many stands in the EU are contaminated with ornamental cultivars that are low yielding or even exhibit invasive traits. This plays a significant role when one does their own on farm propagation or want to engage into rhizome propagation for third party sale. Producers have  seen yield reductions of 10%-20% or catastrophic failure due to cold hardiness issues  because of improper genetic selections that carry a significant cost in such a long term perennial crop. 
    The industry is still in its infancy but is gaining momentum in many markets around the world. Much of the markets are policy driven or have higher value market propositions. 
    New cultivars, new establishment technologies, advancements in agronomy, etc will strengthen the opportunity and bring confidence in the market. 

    Dean Tiessen

Ontario Biomass Producers Cooperative Inc. © 2013

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