Agri-Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI)

A glacial depositional landscape with drumlins with an east/south east aspect. The soil is clay loam overlying Silurian shale and greywacke covered with grass and MS sword. A range of biomass crops were planted during spring 2023. The plans below show which crops are being trialled at this hub site and the updates further down the page keep you up to date with their progress and performance.

Address AFBI Hillsborough, Large Park, Hillsborough, NI, BT26 6DR.
Latitude, longitude 54.45193, -6.07249
Grid ref J 24344 57594 (of field)
What 3 words ref for entrance ///chairing.revise.headliner

Site Plans

Hillsborough Site PlanHillsborough Soil Sample Locations


Mean Annual Precipitation (mm) From 1991 – 2020. Mean = 918
Mean Annual Temperature (°C) 9.28 °C
Altitude ~120 m
Exposure Average wind direction 200.784 angular degrees, average windspeed 13.44 km/h range = (81.488 – 0).
Topography Glacial depositional landscape with drumlins.
Aspect East / Southeast.
Soil type The soil is a clay loam (42% sand, 24% silt and 34% clay), Cambisol (WRB), overlying Silurian shale and greywacke (Christie, 1987).
Current vegetation coverage Mainly all grass and MS sword.
Other relevant site info

Project plans/actions

Which biomass crops

Planted (as of August 2023)

  • SRC willow (6-way mixture) (~0.5 ha)
  • Miscanthus giganteus (~0.5 ha)
  • Miscanthus ‘Athena’ (~0.5 ha)
  • SRC poplar (0.137 ha)​
  • SRF poplar (0.125 ha)​
  • SRF Eucalyptus (0.114 ha)
  • SRF alder (0.028 ha)
  • Black locust Turbo (0.034 ha)
  • Black locust Turbo Obelisk (0.031 ha)
  • Sida hermaphrodita (10.5 m x 7.7 m, 0.008 ha)​

To be planted:

  • Reed canary grass​ (10.5 m x 7.7 m, 0.008 ha)​
  • Switchgrass (upland ecotype)​ (10.5 m x 7.7 m, 0.008 ha).
  • Switchgrass (lowland ecotype) (10.5 m x 7.7 m, 0.008 ha)​

Variety trials​ planted:

  • SRC willow (2023)
  • Miscanthus (2023)​
  • Hemp (0.15 ha). [Separate AFBI trial planted nearby, not a Biomass Connect trial]

Variety trials​ to be planted:

  • Grasses (2024)
  • Hemp (2024) [Separate AFBI trial planted nearby, not a Biomass Connect trial]
Planting goals/aim Planting commenced spring 2023
Agronomic dates (planting, harvesting schedule)

Planting spring


  • SRC willow (cutback – 2024 – harvest 3 years later) (Or full harvest 2026)
  • Miscanthus giganteus (Late winter/early spring 2024)               ​
  • Miscanthus ‘Athena’ (Late winter/early spring 2025)
  • SRC poplar (unsure of which cultivar or is it going to be a mix? Rotation period to be confirmed)​
  • SRF poplar (8 years?)
  • SRF Eucalyptus
  • SRF alder ​(5-8 years)
  • Paulownia
  • Black locust 1
  • Black locust 2
  • Sida (late winter 2024)
  • Reed canary grass​ (early spring 2024).
  • Switchgrass (either winter 2023 or late winter/early spring 2024)​
  • ​Arundo (late winter/early spring 2024).

Some of the energy crops will have small amounts harvested for small scale lab-based AD trials.

Management methodology (spray off, nutrient additions, ploughing, site prep, others)

Leaving land as heavily grazed grassland over winter (due to regulations in NI we cannot leave land furrowed). Stale seed beds will then be created ~6 weeks before planting. This will include spraying (glyphosate 360g/l product at 4-5 l/ha), then ploughing followed by rotavating. Seed bed will be left and then sprayed (360g/l at 2 l/ha) once weeds are in 3-4 leaf stage and rotavated once more as close to planting as possible.

Once planting has been undertaken the plots will be monitored closely for weeds. And pre-em measures can be undertaken.

Following the guidance of the experts, SRF plots can be mulched at the base (bio mulch mat), tree protectors and spot sprayed if necessary.

SRC willow and poplar – post emergence sprays if necessary.

Pre-em spraying of glyphosate can be utilised for the seeded and rhizomatous crops if necessary. Also, post emergence spraying with authorised products for each individual crop and mechanical weed removal/ inter-row cultivation.

Machinery to be used  

General Info

Field management history The field has been previously permanent pastural grassland.
Other site detail of note  


Demonstrator Hub Update – AFBI, Hillsborough – June 2024
The site at AFBI has been looking great during June as it has been prepped for the Biomass Connect Demo Day. The cold wet Spring continues, but most crops are growing well. Two varieties of Hemp have been planted this month.
Growing Resilience: Harnessing Biomass Crops for Climate-Proof Farming
As part of a two day “Farming for the Future” event held by the wider Afbi livestock teams. During both days of the event, the Biomass Connect team provided an opportunity for around 40 livestock farming visitors to explore and understand different biomass crop options
First Demonstrator Hub Soil Data Published
The first soil dataset from across the eight Biomass Connect Demonstrator Hub sites has now been published. This dataset contains the baseline measurements of key soil properties, including carbon, bulk density and pH, which are critical to assess the impacts of biomass crops on soils through future repeat sampling.
Demonstrator Hub Update – AFBI, Hillsborough – May 2024
As the weather improves and the days lengthen growth is speeding up. This includes the weeds and grass, so management of these has been the main emphasis this month. The 2024 Miscanthus variety trail and the Sida plots have been planted up this month too.
Demonstrator Hub Update – AFBI, Hillsborough – April 2024
April has been a busy month of mowing, spraying and growing at the AFBI Demonstrator hub with all crops growing well but the poplars are lagging behind a little.
Demonstrator Hub Update – AFBI, Hillsborough – February 2024
Generally across the AFBI site things have been looking healthy whilst dormant over the winter. Some things are showing really good growth and now that Spring is approaching there are signs of life everywhere. The site is still very wet, and the land cannot be accessed by machinery until a significant drying period.
Biomass Connect Hub Site Updates – November 2023
With Winter on its way, growth has all but stopped at the hub sites. So, rather than have an individual update for each Hub Site we have a quick round-up below along with some photos. Starting in the North and working our way south.
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – October 2023
September 2023 - Hub Site Updates Plot Observations Alder The SRF Alder is looking well. There have been a couple of casualties but on the whole it is looking good. Inter-row mowing has been carried out to control the grass.
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – September 2023
September 2023 - Hub Site Updates Plot Observations Alder The SRF Alder is looking well. There have been a couple of casualties but on the whole it is looking good. Inter-row mowing has been carried out to control the grass.
AFBI Demo Event Video
A lively and well-attended demo event at the Biomass Connect Agri-food and Biosciences Institute Hub Site in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland. 
AFBI Hillsborough Demo Event Report
Approximately 40 attendees participated in the Biomass Connect Demonstration Day at our Hillsborough Hub Site in Northern Ireland, hosted by the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) These represented a diverse group of commercial growers, advisors, and biomass material processors from both the northern and southern regions of the island.
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – August 2023
August 2023 – Hub Site Updates All plots have been mowed apart from the miscanthus. Wet conditions have not affected access to site. Weed Control Miscanthus (all plots) had a […]
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – July 2023
July 2023 – Hub Site Updates The big breakthrough for the AFBI site in Northern Ireland was finally getting all the phytosanitary certification approved so that the Eucalyptus plug plants […]
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – June 2023
May & June 2023 – Hub Site Updates 7th – 9th May, Willow variety trial planted Still awaiting word from RRes Harpenden regarding delivery of Eucalyptus plugs and the Sida […]
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – May 2023
April and May 2023 – Hub Site Updates Eucalyptus has yet to be delivered / planted due to complications with importing tree species across borders. The Alder had been sourced […]
Willow Planting at AFBI Hub Site
Willow Planting at the Biomass Connect AFBI Hub Site in Northern Ireland
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – March 2023
March 2023 – Overview of progress to date Remedial ground-work The grassland site was in good condition ahead of taking management control. Grazing of the grassland continued until glyphosate was […]
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – February 2023
February 2023 We have sprayed the grass with glyphosate, where there was multispecies sward, we’ve sprayed with Glyphosate and Doxstar. We are looking to plough and cultivate next week to […]
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough – January 2023
January 2023 Risk Assessments for grazing, browsing and crop damage threats were undertaken. Planning to spray Near and Far White Hill with glyphosate in 2 weeks time to kill the […]
Hub Site Update – AFBI Hillsborough
December 2022 The land area has been fenced (stock proof) and is secure from outside influence. The site has been sprayed for docks and clover (Doxstar Pro). The site is […]



54.4518165 -6.07485 A F B I, Large Park, Hillsborough, UK