Demonstrator Hub Update – AFBI, Hillsborough – June 2024

10 July 2024

June 2024 – AFBI, Hillsborough Demonstrator Hub Update

Hillsborough Site Plan

Hillsborough Site Plan

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. The team from Rothamsted Research paid a visit to do a site inspection on June 19th. Their notes are incorporated into the crop diaries below.



Crop Diaries

Click on the titles below to find out how each of the crops are progressing.


  • The SRF alder plot has had its grass mown in preparation for the Biomass Connect Demo Day and is looking good.
  • The SRF alder trees all looked good and the gapped-up ones planted earlier this year are coming away nicely. 
  • The mowing and Glysophate application are noticeable within the rows of trees.
  • What we think to be a Sawfly larvae colony was observed on a few of the Alder trees. Photos of them have been sent to the Insect Survey at (RRes Harpenden). Best guess now is possibly Nematus septentrionalis. We are keeping an eye on these to make sure populations do not get too big and overwhelm the trees which could potentially lead to a negative outcome.

Black Locust

  • The SRF black locust ‘Turbo’ plot has been prepared for the Biomass Connect Demo Event. Some of the leaves are quite yellow.
  • Some of the SRF black locust ‘Turbo’ trees look to have created wells at the base of the stem by blowing in the wind. These have subsequently filled with water and rotted the base of the stem. We will make a count to verify how many have died.
  • The SRF black locust ‘Turbo Obelisk’ trees were planted in May, no shoots have been observed yet.


  • The SRF Eucalyptus plants overall are growing well. They are quite small but did go in late last summer.
  • The deceased ones have been removed and new plants have been planted to gap up the plot. 
  • Inter-row mowing has been undertaken, it would be worth following up with Glysophate application with the Herbidome around the base of the trees.
  • The plants have not yet been staked with the bigger recommended stakes which is worth actioning as the site is on elevated ground and wind can be an issue.
  • There is some small evidence of insects that has been noticed on some of the plants. They do not appear to be having a detrimental effect but will be monitored in case they do. 
  • A lot more varieties of the SRF Eucalyptus are now protruding from their shelters.
  • Further rolling of the tree guards has been carried out.


  • The grass has been mown in both the SRF poplar and SRC poplar plots.
  • The SRF poplar trees are looking good. The base of the trees would benefit from the Herbidome being used for Glysophate application to knock back the grass a bit. Close inspection of the trees reveals quite a lot of Aphid activity. Photos of these have been sent to an entomologist at RRes Harpenden who believes them to be, an Aphid variety called: Pterocomma populeum. At the moment, they do not seem to be damaging the plant, but this will be monitored.
  • We have carried out a quick plant count to see how many plants had aphid presence. The numbers on the three Poplar varieties planted broke down like this:
Popular Variety Total Trees Planted Total Trees Deceased Total of Trees with Aphids Present Percentage with Aphids Present 
AF7 76 0 33 43% 
A4A 80 4 29 38% 
Vestern 80 1 29 37% 
  • These aphids were not observed on the SRC poplar.


  • Both the Miscanthus giganteus and Miscanthus Athena™ are shooting up and are about knee height. Thsitles and some large dock weeds have been dug out in both plots.
  • The Miscanthus Athena™ was treated with a post-ems spray and then topped within 24 hours of spraying. This worked well and the weed burden was knocked back and the crop looks good. This treatment will be recommended to all Biomass Connect sites along with details on the exact herbicide mix to use.
  • The Miscanthus giganteus crop looks good and the spring glysophate has worked well. We will apply a pst-em spray as aboce if any thistle or broadleaf weeds warrant it.
  • The 2023 Miscanthus variety trial plants look to be establishing well, and have been inter-row mowed/strimmed so that the plots look tidy.
  • The 2024 Miscanthus variety trial plot was planted on 21st May. 5 plots are left ready to be planted by New Energy Farms. A Post Em’s treatment is planned ASAP. There appears to be a flush of Brown Mustard that was used as a cover crop over winter so as not to leave the cultivated soil bare.



  • The SRC willow plot has been mown ready for the demo Event and the plot is looking great. The willows are very tall. (10-12 feet in places). We are keeping up with the inter row mowing and a pass with the Herbidome. The size of the willows should hopefully create their own weed suppressing with canopy closure. Some Inger varieties were displaying the brown, crispy leaf that is being observed at other sites. But symptoms were not severe. 
  • The willow variety trial is looking good. Some are doing better than others but that is to be expected. It was noted that the Hungarian sourced willow was looking particularly poor. Inter-row mowing and careful Glysophate application with the Herbidome is ongoing to help with the weed competition. The few large docks that are starting to be competitive will be removed by hand.


  • The sida was planted on 16th & 17th May using a drill plough to cut lines at 70cm and then plants spaced 35cm along the rows.
  • Some which blew over were replaced on the 17th, 18th, 19th June.
  • They are black on one side due to lignification from the prevailing wind.
  • Overall the sida is looking good.

Reed Canary Grass

  • The reed canary grass seeds were sown on the 30th of May. It is hard to tell yet if the grass emerging is from the sown seed or just a weed grass.



  • The switchgrass seeds were sown on the 30th of May. It is hard to tell yet if the grass emerging is from the sown seed or just a weed grass.


  • The Silphium seeds were sown on May 22nd.
  • There is some evidence of seedlings establishing.


  • Two fibre varieties (Santhica 27 and Futura 83) of hemp were sown on the 3rd of June at 200 plants/m2
  • The hemp seed was broadcast this year as opposed to being drilled like last year’s crop.
  • The seedlings have emerged quickly in comparison to the other Grass Perennials that have been sown.

Plans and Actions

  • The Biomass Connect Demo Day – Growing Resilience: Harnessing Biomass Crops for Climate-Proof Farming at AFBI Hillsborough on the 18th & 19th June was a success. Thanks go out to everyone who attended and helped organise the event. Read a report from the event here.
  • Crop signs have been erected on each of the plots and a site plan sign has been installed at the entrance.

Back to latest news

Latest News

Archived news