FARMERS looking for a crop to grow on flood-prone land and which helps improve soils after flooding may soon have the answer.
New trials examining how the energy crop, Miscanthus, survives in water-logged land and its effect on the soil after flooding have been launched.
They are being jointly run by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University, and miscanthus supply chain specialists, Terravesta and come in the wake of the recent flooding in northern England and are being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
"We know miscanthus has the ability to tolerate flooding when it’s mature, but there’s a gap in the data about its tolerance during its establishment stage, and this is during the first two years of growth,” says Dr Sarah Purdy, plant physiologist, from Aberystwyth University.
“What’s really exciting about these trials is that we’re also going to analyse the health of the soil, following the floods, when compared to other land-uses,” says Dr Purdy.
The trials will see the biomass crop, miscanthus, grown on commercial flood-prone sites, on plot-scale sites and in controlled environments under glass, to monitor how the crop copes with prolonged flooding, particularly in its establishment stage, and analyse the structure and nutritional health of the soil.
“We believe miscanthus may be beneficial to soil because this perennial crop has a life cycle lasting up to twenty years, in which time the soil experiences no tillage, just an annual harvest. Therefore the soil can maintain its structure which promotes colonisation by beneficial microbes and creatures such as earthworms.
“Miscanthus has a large under-ground rhizome which recycles nitrogen and other essential nutrients from the stems before harvest so that no fertilizer needs to be applied to achieve high yields.
“The implications for farmers struggling to grow crops on waterlogged land, are vast. If the nutrient recycling benefits offered by miscanthus can still promote healthy growth after a flood event, growers could reduce expenditure on rehabilitating land through fertilizer application by growing this crop."