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The New Renewables

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Elsoms Seeds is a sponsored series.

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About 10% of the UK’s energy will need to come from bioenergy, says Charlotte Morton
About 10% of the UK’s energy will need to come from bioenergy, says Charlotte Morton

The drive to develop renewable energy sources is dramatically affecting the UK countryside with wind and solar farms being the most obvious signs.

Less obviously, the UK is also witnessing the largest change to its crop rotational practices since the growth of oilseed rape as the rapid expansion of anaerobic digestion (AD) plants across the country drives the area of land put down to crops such as maize, hybrid rye and energy beet.

With the number of UK AD plants doubling in 2014, the NFU estimates there could be as many as 1,000 agricultural AD plants in the UK by 2020, while the Government estimates around 10% of the UK’s energy will need to come from bioenergy in order to meet the UK’s 2050 emissions target, according to Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA).


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Elsoms Seeds

Elsoms Seeds is the UK’s leading independent plant breeding and seed treatment business. The company is based in Spalding, Lincolnshire.
www.elsoms.com

The development and expansion of the AD sector and its guaranteed long-term income could prove a lifeline for many farm businesses. Ms Morton says: “AD enables farmers to diversify their revenue streams with Government incentives to produce green energy currently guaranteed for 20 years and linked to inflation. In addition a balanced mix of energy crops can enhance soil quality and fertility and hence increase crop yields while using the digestate produced reduces the fertiliser bill.”

While the first AD plants in the UK were fed primarily by maize and food waste, the market has rapidly started to adopt the sophisticated cropping practices developed in the northern Europe renewable energy sector. Elsoms Seeds energy crop specialist, Heather Ayre, says: “The performance of an AD plant and the contribution of energy crops to the profitability of the total farm enterprise can be significantly improved by including hybrid rye and energy beet in the Energy Crop programme.”

Ms Ayre says the demand for hybrid rye has grown significantly over the last two years. “Farmers have rapidly realised hybrid rye is a highly efficient crop which is much friendlier and predictable alternative to maize to include in the rotation.

“Easily established in late autumn, hybrid rye is a robust and vigorous species which grows away rapidly suppressing weeds, as well as improving soil structure through its deep and extensive root system. Harvest is usually in June, allowing plenty of time to prepare land for the following crop, while the long growing period and early summer harvest avoid the variability in yield and quality inherent in maize’s short growing period and early autumn harvest.

“Although maize can only be successfully grown in certain parts of the UK, hybrid rye enables more farmers to benefit from the renewables sector by being suitable to be grown in most parts of the country.” Elsoms Seeds works closely with the Bio Energy Division of German Plant breeder Saaten Union, led by Dr Joachim Moeser, to select new varieties suitable for the UK.

Ms Ayre explains: “The Turbo Technology used by Saaten Union gives their varieties a real point of difference by reducing ergot contamination without compromising yield. SU Drive has done an excellent job in establishing hybrid rye in the UK and we are delighted to be able to introduce two new varieties this year, SU Cossani and SU Performer, both offer significant steps forward in performance.

Hybrid rye management

  • Drill in September/October into a seedbed similar to the requirements for wheat or barley.
  • Two to three doses of a PGR are recommended to prevent lodging.
  • One to two fungicide treatments may be necessary.
  • For AD plants, harvest in May, June, or early July Black-grass control.
  • Hybrid ryes have huge potential for helping to control black-grass in the rotation, says Ms Ayre. As well as having a competitive growth habit, it can be harvested before black-grass sheds most of its seeds.
     

Dairy cow feed potential 

  • Early results from Saaten Union’s trials suggest hybrid ryes could become a valuable ingredient in total mixed rations for dairy cows. While the crop has a slightly lower feed value compared with wholecrop wheat, dry matter is typically higher at about 38-39%. Conventional forage rye varieties are also being trialled and are showing considerable promise, following testing which involved double-cropping with maize.

Grower and user testimonials

  • Paul Grant of R.G. Farms, Boston, Lincolnshire, has introduced hybrid rye after initial focusing solely on Maize as an energy crop. “I was becoming increasingly concerned about the damage I was doing to my soil structure as result of harvesting a very large area of maize. Hybrid rye’s June harvest should reduce this while it forms a key part of my strategy for controlling black-grass.”
  • Jon Myhill, regional feedstock manager for Futurebiogas, points to the robust nature of Saaten Union hybrid ryes. “We have found Saaten Union Rye varieties to have good early vigour, even when sown late. The crops tiller well and have produced pleasing dry matter yields. Wholecrop rye has worked well as a feedstock, as it complements maize. On heavy land, where maize is less favourable, it has given farmers the opportunity to tackle black-grass in their rotations.”
  • Dr Joachim Moeser is international product manager for Saaten Union. Recognised nationally as one of the leading experts in the development of hybrid rye for the energy market, he gives an update on plant breeding progress. “We have taken a major step forward, following independent trials which show a yield increase of 4-5% tonnes per hectare for our new varieties, SU Performer and SU Cossani, compared with our first generation variety, SU Drive,” he says. The second significant improvement is the reduced susceptibility to ergot infection which these varieties are demonstrating, he says. Reducing susceptibility to ergot infestation is always a key factor in breeding new hybrid rye varieties. “With both new varieties, we have improved the restorability of the mother line used in the production of the hybrid seed. This has increased the speed and ease with which pollen can fertilise the female flower, significantly reducing the opportunity for ergot spores to infect the plant,” says Dr Moeser.


Energy Crops portfolio

Elsoms Seeds is the sole UK marketing agent for plant breeder, Saaten Union, based in Germany. The company has recently launched its energy crop portfolio, which includes a range of hybrid ryes, as well as energy beets, triticale and maize.

Hybrid ryes

SU Drive: A UK-proven, stiff-strawed variety, suitable for a range of soil types. Good disease resistance. pSU Cossani: Will be available for the first time this autumn. High yielding, with strong tiller density and excellent disease resistance.

SU Performer: Will be available for the first time this autumn. Very high-yielding in UK and European trials, good lodging resistance and a robust disease profile.

Energy beet: Elsoms Seeds also markets energy beet varieties developed by Strube, a family business with its headquarters in Germany. Like maize, energy beet is spring-sown, but it is generally easier to establish and more robust. Varieties include Barents, a high dry matter crop with a conical root shape to allow easy harvesting, along with low dirt tare to prevent AD plant contamination. It is tried and tested in the UK. The new variety, Artus, will be available next spring and is also high yielding, with conical root shape. It is Strube’s leading biogas variety in Germany.

Did you know?

Wrap estimates that the nutrient value of bio fertiliser is worth up to £120 per hectare.

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