Developing Miscanthus seed plug establishment protocols with mulch film for commercial upscaling

Chris Ashman*, Danny Awty‐Carroll, Michal Mos, Jason Kam, Sara Guerrini, Simon Calder, John Clifton‐Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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High-yielding crops with C4 photosynthesis arising in tropical climates are being bred for, and increasingly grown in, temperate climates. Miscanthus, a C4 from Eastern Asia is a leading perennial biomass crop, but commercial deployment is limited by low temperatures in Northern Europe, low clonal multiplication rates and slow establishment rates requiring up to 4 years to reach mature yields. While new seeded hybrids have multiplication rates >2000, direct field sown seed has proven impractical. Protocols for safe establishment of seeded hybrids require that seedlings are raised in the glasshouse in compost filled modules (also known as ‘plugs’) which are transplanted into the field in springtime. To protect seedlings from damage from late frosts, drought and grazing and to increase temperature stimulating growth rates, plug plants were covered with oxo-degradable plastic mulch film designed for maize. At two sites in the UK, this mulch film significantly reduced plant losses at transplanting and overwintering, increased stem heights and shoot counts, and reduced the time to mature yield from 4 to 3 years (p < 0.01). However, the breakdown products of oxo-degradable mulch films contribute to microplastics in the soil. Therefore, further mulch film experiments were conducted with bio-derived plastics which are bio-degradable in soil at extruded thicknesses of 10, 18 and 30 microns. The 10 micron film combined sufficient strength for machine laying and worked as well as oxo-degradable film on de-risking establishment. Halving the mulch film widths covering 1 row rather than 2 reduced the amount of plastic by 25%. Commercial plug-to-field protocols are built on results from the plot experiments and field-scale plantings over multiple years and locations and are ready for future upscaling of biomass production from seed-based Miscanthus hybrids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)746-764
Number of pages19
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number6
Early online date22 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2023


  • agronomics
  • biodegradable mulch film
  • circular economy
  • improving yield
  • increasing establishment speed
  • Miscanthus
  • mulch film
  • perennial biomass crop
  • reducing establishment cost
  • upscaling


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