A new crop trial on sunergy promises to deliver what researchers describe as a “versatile, eco-friendly, profitable” replacement for maize.
Trials in Kent, north Lincolnshire and South Wales will test the performance of Sunergy (Latin name: Silphium perfoliatum), a low-input, high-output perennial crop.
Researchers have said that it will solve “many” problems of cropping rotation while offering “significant” environmental and financial benefits.
Also known as compass or cup plant, it is a member of the Asteraceae family.
According to researchers, it has a 10–15-year life span and, once established, is “resilient, reliable”, and unaffected by “major” pests or diseases.
It has a “complex” root structure, which acts as a carbon sink while improving soil health, and is an “excellent” nectar source for pollinators.
Being a perennial plant, its roots grow year-on-year, while the soil remains undisturbed.
This allows networks of beneficial microbes to flourish, further increasing the amount of sequestered carbon.
Furthermore, a Sunergy root system also loosens the soil and supplies it with oxygen. This causes it to absorb more water and reduces the risk of erosion.
In addition, the soil is covered and protected all year round, and Sunergy provides an “ideal” habitat for insects and birds.
According to researchers, it also has a very low fertiliser and agricultural chemical input requirement.
Another attractive proposition is AD energy production, for which Sunergy’s dry matter yield is similar to a good crop of maize silage.
Furthermore, it is also suited to a “wide” range of growing sites.
Sunergy has a “wide” range of end uses, including:
- An anaerobic digestion (AD) fuel;
- Ruminant feed;
- A human food source.
Researchers are still exploring Sunergy’s wider usages. Work is underway to develop the use of its fibre in packaging and to use its proteins in products such as cosmetics.
Impact on environment and farmland wildlife
Nick Green, an agronomist at Newtone Agriscapes, which is the UK distributor for Sunergy, said:
“I discovered Sunergy by chance in conversation with a colleague and quickly realised I had hit upon something unique.”
“I am extremely excited about Sunergy as a crop type, not only because of its benefits to the grower but for the impact on our environment and farmland wildlife.”
Rhys Jenkins, who is running the South Wales trial at Model Farm in the Vale of Glamorgan, added:
“Like Nick, I am committed to farming methods that benefit wildlife and the environment, and the advantages offered by Sunergy are vast.
“As a crop that couples so many environmental gains with cost savings and the potential to create further lucrative income streams, Sunergy is the Holy Grail of modern farming.”
“Therefore, I am looking forward to developing our use of it over the coming year,” Jenkins concluded.
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