Miscanthus NZ

The Plant

MxG is a C4 grass which means that its photosynthesis is much more efficient than normal plants. It is closely related to sugarcane.

One of its parents is tropical in origin and the other one has good tolerance of cold conditions. As a result, it is very tolerant of temperature extremes. It is grown in Europe from as far north as Denmark and southern Sweden, to as far south as Portugal, Italy and Greece. In North America, it is grown from Southern Ontario in the North down to Georgia in the South. MNZ has seen Miscanthus plants in New Zealand that have been exposed to mild frost during planting and also in the month after planting. There seemed to be little negative effect from this, although sub-zero air temperatures after spring growth has started can kill off the top growth and force the plant to start from scratch again.

Work done by Lincoln University has shown that with the right pre-planting treatment, growth and biomass production can be significantly enhanced it is expected that this treatment will be commercially available in the relatively near future. At the same time, MNZ has been carrying out its own research on stimulation of initial growth from rhizomes and has achieved startling results with exceptional first year growth such that harvest could be possible at the end of the first growing season. Further work is being done to ensure that this is replicable.

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Feasibility

Costs, production levels and revenue are to some extent specific to site and location.

miscanthus-plantletBecause of this, and prior to any decision being made to grow this crop, MNZ recommends that a feasibility study should be completed for each specific site. The study report will include details of growth expected in the locality, the costs involved, the local market for the Miscanthus feedstock that the landowner will produce and may include a sample contract for purchase of the feedstock by or on behalf of a relevant local end user if required.

To supplement this, for many growers, MNZ will be offering a feedstock purchase contract in order to give the grower commercial confidence in establishing what is effectively a relatively new crop.

miscanthus-baby-plantsMNZ can complete such a study for prospective growers for a fee of $2,800 plus GST plus disbursements. Typically this would total less than $3,000 plus GST, with 50% payable on commissioning the study and the balance being payable on receipt of the report.

Commercial feasibility depends very much on the scale at which the planting was carried out in a specific end use to which the harvested product will be put. Larger scale plantings are more feasible because on a per hectare basis establishment costs are lower and at the same time the harvesting costs per tonne are also lower because of better utilisation of machinery.

Research

Research has started at a number of sites and is being led in a formal academic sense by the Bio-Protection Research Centre (BPRC) of Lincoln University. MNZ is also carrying out research and one of its staff is devoted almost entirely to this.

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The BPRC have now had three seasons of very successful research of Miscanthus being used for shelter on dairy farms in Canterbury. The report that they have produced in relation to this work are available on this website. In addition, they have carried out ground breaking research on use of various strains of Trichoderma to enhance the growth and development of Miscanthus. The results from the greenhouse trials were spectacular and the follow-up field trials are reportedly reflecting those greenhouse results.

miscanthus-growing-season-regrowthMNZ research has been focused on establishment and harvesting in New Zealand conditions. It is through this research that we are now confident of being able to provide rhizomes to commercial scale customers with an assurance of success in their establishment. Use of rhizomes is significantly less costly on a per hectare basis and use of plantlets, but internationally the survival of plants established from rhizomes is not as good as from plantlets. So MNZ partners are still continuing to carry out research on cost-effective production of plantlets. MNZ also has more than one harvesting option available now as a result of trials that it is carried out.

Research has been carried out on the value of Miscanthus for stock feed with samples having been analysed from throughout the growing season. There is a lot more research needed in this area but it does seem to have some potential in New Zealand, particularly where effluent either from dairy sheds or from industry such as meat works or Fonterra production sites is being irrigated onto the Miscanthus.

Research is also being carried out into transport and storage options for Miscanthus and most importantly further uses for the harvested product are being continually explored and expanded. This is being done to some extent in conjunction with international industry developers because any new or better uses generated can be of benefit the international Miscanthus industry as a whole.

The intention is to write a definitive manual on growing and using Miscanthus in New Zealand. It is anticipated that this may be completed towards the end of 2016.