In a proactive move towards fostering innovation and sustainability in agriculture, a team of Farming Connect’s development officers were invited to the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences (IBERS) for an event that was part of the ongoing activities organised by the Biomass Connect Project to enhance awareness of emerging biomass industries and potential benefits within the land-based sector.
The initiative stemmed from discussions that followed Mark Needham’s seminar presentation at Farming Connect’s Diversification and Innovation event last September. Lee Price, the Development Manager of Farming Connect’s Knowledge Transfer Programme, recognized the value of the DESNZ Biomass Connect project and sought Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for the team of development officers. The team, strategically located in various counties, plays a pivotal role in engaging with land-based activities, including discussion group meetings, demonstration events, and industry training.
Dr Will Stiles, the Biomass Connect lead at IBERs, set the stage for the visit by providing an overview of the DESNZ Biomass Connect project. This unique initiative spans 8 different hub sites across the UK, offering potential growers the opportunity to observe how various biomass crops thrive in their specific localities. Mark Needham, of the Biomass Connect knowledge exchange hub, outlined both the opportunities and challenges within this emerging industry. Discussions encompassed the development of the supply chain, the acquisition of new skills for land managers and advisors, and the broader benefits of biomass crops, including contributions to Net Zero goals, business diversification, and environmental improvements.
To ensure the sustainability and integration of biomass crops into future land use policies, the event featured presentations from two prominent biomass researchers at IBERS. Dr Paul Robson detailed research on breeding resilient biomass crops, emphasising the need for crops like miscanthus to thrive in the UK’s variable climate. Dr Elaine Jensen discussed her collaborative work with the government, focusing on how biomass crops could be integrated within the Welsh landscape and the importance of research that can help to influence future land use policies.
Following constructive discussions prompted by the presentations, the group explored IBERS’ newly established biomass hub site plots. The tour provided valuable insights into silvicultural practices, diverse tree species, planting methods, and tree spacing considerations for short rotation coppice (SRC) and short rotation forestry (SRF). Emphasis was placed on the critical importance of selecting the right tree for the right location, and initial care in establishing these crops, including planting, staking, guarding and ongoing weed and pest control.
The afternoon concluded with a visit to mature plots of miscanthus and willow, allowing the Farming Connect team to witness firsthand the successful growth of these crops when well-established. The visit not only enriched the knowledge of Farming Connect’s development officers but also underlined the significance of sustainable biomass crop cultivation in shaping the future of agriculture and environmental stewardship.
“Mark Needham commented that it was really great to have this team of officers visit the project so that they will be able to cascade this knowledge when discussing business opportunities in their community”.
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Biomass Connect Knowledge Exchange fellow.