David Buckleigh, of Miscanthus New Zealand in Rotorua,
inspects the miscanthus shelter belt on the Burnham
property. Photo by Maureen Bishop.
It can grow up to four metres tall, provide shelter for
animals and pasture, be used as fuel, animal bedding and
fodder, and provide habitat for bees, insects, birds and
As well, pivot irrigators can pass through it.
It is the giant perennial grass, miscanthus.
The benefits of the grass were outlined recently at a field
day on a Burnham farm, the site of a research project.
The objectives of the Lincoln University research project are
to improve the profitability and the sustainability of dairy
farming by creating shelter from the most energy efficient
bio energy plant in the temperate hemisphere.
The project is supported by Westland Milk Products, DairyNZ,
AgResearch and Bio-Protection.
Professor Steve Wratten, of Lincoln University said the grass
was exciting researchers because of its 15 or 16 possible
uses, advantages which no other bio plant had.
While the research project was based around shelter and it
was not a food trial, the grass had proved to be quite tasty
It was also a potential source of renewable diesel and could
go straight into the tank, he said.
Miscanthus shelter belts were first established in four
paddocks on Mark Williams' Aylesbury Dairies property in
Three further paddocks were planted this year. The
non-invasive grass was planted in seven-metre wide strips to
allow a forage harvester to be used.
The plants are available either as rhizomes or plantlets,
with plantlets giving the best establishment rate.
Cultivation is not essential and plants can be planted
directly into holes in the soil. Adequate water is essential.
Under irrigation plant growth is impressive and plant
survival of greater than 90% is possible.
The grass can grow four metres in the third season after
planting, for 20 years.
Once established, the plant naturally senesces in winter and
resprouts in spring.
If harvested, miscanthus can be cut as new spring growth
PhD student Chris Littlejohn said the Japanese tall grass was
grown in Europe, America and Canada as biofuel.
It came into New Zealand in 2006 and was first grown over the
whole paddock, cut and baled for use as fuel.
Now it was being used to create shelter.
The project includes monitoring pasture yield variation
within paddocks where the grass is planted and across the
It also includes studying the role of shelter in reducing
evapotranspiration and ecosystem benefits such as providing
habitat for bumblebees, insects, earthworms and skinks.
Peter Brown, of Miscanthus New Zealand, said the full
benefits of the grass as animal feed were still not known but
indications were that it was equivalent to good quality
The grass was a researcher's dream as there was so much not
known about it, he said.
It was very efficient in the use of nutrients, tolerant of
low-fertility soils and there were only two viruses known to
affect it, neither of which was found in New Zealand.
He spoke of the use of the grass as a renewable diesel, with
a tonne of miscanthus capable of providing 300 litres net of
Professor Wratten said his vision was for a mobile machine on
a truck which could travel to farms and convert the grass
Mr Williams said miscanthus had proved palatable to cows when
about 200 animals accidentally got into one shelter belt.
They had stripped the leaves, but the plants would
- by Maureen Bishop