Growing Resilience: Harnessing Biomass Crops for Climate-Proof Farming

03 July 2024

Location: AFBI Hillsborough, Large Park, Hillsborough, NI, BT26 6DR

Date: 18th & 19th June 2024

As part of the two-day “Farming for the Future” event held by the wider AFBI livestock teams, Biomass Connect provided an opportunity for livestock farming visitors to explore a range biomass crop options.  A team of seasoned growers, breeders, researchers and advisors led participants on guided tours of the pioneering Biomass Connect plots within the estate. These interactive sessions offered insights on cultivation, husbandry, and the merits of the various biomass crop options.

Key Insights

Attendees discovered how a wide range of biomass crops could contribute to climate-resilient farming strategies, mitigating the impact of unpredictable weather patterns and market volatility. They also learnt how integrating these crops into agricultural enterprises could enhance financial stability and support environmentally beneficial farming practices. As part of the tour visitors were able to see a selection of the machinery used in the establishment of willow and Miscanthus.

Several farmers who were in the process of setting up anaerobic digesters were particularly keen to visit and talk about the agronomy and benefits of the newly planted Sida and Silphium (Cup Plant) on the site.

Black Locust Fence Post

Black Locust Fence Post

Another talking point was the black locust fencing post on display. These posts are becoming popular due to the fact they don’t require any chemical preservative and are long lasting. Although currently imported, they have been planted on the eight Biomass Connect sites and are being monitored for their performance. In the future they could provide durable fast-growing fencing material as well as a source of energy production.

Other Main Topics of Conversation

Conversation topicFor more information

·       Where can I buy planting materials in Northern Ireland?

·       What machinery is needed to harvest biomass crops and is there any in Northern Ireland?

·       What can I do with the willow I grow and where are the markets?


Biomass Connect supplier directory

Envirocrops online directory

Is Miscanthus easy to grow?Grower’s guide  (TBC)
Can Miscanthus be used for soft engineering near water courses?

Biomass Buffers


What are the benefits from grazing willow with livestock?

NI farm trials to test willow’s ability to reduce methane emissions –

Effect of grazing cattle on willow silvopastoral systems on animal performance and methane production

What are the uses of poplar trees?Poplar trees
Can I use biomass crops as livestock bedding?

Grower Walter Simon’s Miscanthus Success Story

Producing Animal Bedding from Miscanthus


How can these crops help my farm be carbon neutral?

What effect does planting biomass crops have on soil carbon?

Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping | Working towards Net-Zero


PBC4GGR – Perennial Biomass Crops for Greenhouse Gas Removal

During the event, a small number of visitors had the chance to see the biomass heating plant at AFBI. This plant supplies energy for the research unit from willow trees grown on several of the other AFBI sites, serving as a notable example of how their research is put into practical use.

Mark Needham of Biomass Connect expressed his pleasure at seeing farmers at the livestock open day at AFBI taking part in the biomass tour. “It is important for farmers and advisors to see the potential of these crops, not only for the benefits they can have in helping achieve net zero and improving public goods such as water quality, but also as a form of diversification, helping to improve farm resilience by offsetting volatile market prices for bedding and energy.”

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