Multipurpose – one crop, various products. Multipurpose crops means, that different products can be produced using one crop.
Miscanthus can either be harvested green in October and then used as a biogas substrate, or harvested end of winter when the aboveground biomass is senescence. Then the biomass can be used to produce basic chemicals or building materials besides various other things.
In contrast to miscanthus, where the biomass is usually used as a whole, the hemp biomass is separated into different fractions which can be used in various utilization pathways: The fibres, the shives, and the seeds. Even the threshing residues can be used to produce valuable substances such as medical Cannabidiol.
Efficiency – Low input, high output. Both crops are able to produce high outputs while requiring only low inputs.
Hemp for example has a fast youth growth which leads to an early covering of the soil. This soil cover successfully suppresses weeds. Therefore no input of pesticides are necessary, which is also an import environmental advantage.
As miscanthus is a perennial crop soil cultivation and planting only takes place in the first year and pesticide application usually only in the first two years of its twenty-year cultivation period. In addition, miscanthus is a very nutrient efficient crop, which needs depending on the harvest regime, no additional input of fertilizers.
Biodiversity – Enhances crop diversity and offers habitat for animals and insects.
The introduction of miscanthus and hemp into traditional crop rotations enhances the crop diversity and provides additional opportunities for the farmers to diversify their cropping systems.
In addition, both miscanthus and hemp have a positive effect on the biodiversity, especially in comparison to conventional biomass crops such as maize. Insects for example are benefiting from the absence of pesticide application in hemp. Miscanthus for instance has a positive impact on soil organisms as soil cultivation only takes place in the first year. In addition, due to its late harvest miscanthus can offer habitats, especially for birds and small mammals.
Sustainability – reduce climate impact of agriculture and increase soil fertility.
The cultivation of these novel biomass crops and the subsequent utilization results in various social, economic and environmental benefits.
Especially when looking at the anthropogenic climate change, one of the most urgent problems of our times, the utilisation of these crops can lead to significant environmental benefits when substituting a fossil reference. One reason for that is, that hemp and miscanthus achieve high biomass yields with low inputs which reduces the environmental burden associated with the biomass production. In addition, in case miscanthus replaces traditional annual biomass crops, it sequesters carbon in the soil and thus act as a real carbon sink.
Food security – non-food crops, cultivated on marginal and contaminated land.
Miscanthus and hemp are both non-food crops which are able to grow on marginal or on contaminated land, which was previously not used for agriculture. On marginal sites food or feed production is often not possible out of bio-physical reasons, whereas on contaminated land, which is for example polluted by heavy metals, the reason are health concerns. As a result the cultivation of miscanthus and hemp for biomass production on these sites does not lead to competition with food crops and thus also bears no risk for an increase in food insecurity. In addition, the use of these sites creates jobs in rural areas and thereby strengthen the local economy.