Farmer-owned cooperative Camgrain preserved grain quality for hundreds of farmers following a catchy harvest which saw little grain cut under 15% moisture.
The cooperative – which operates four advanced processing centres across East Anglia and the Midlands – says its dryers were working constantly to maximise returns for its members during a challenging summer.
“Most cereal yields have been either on – or about – the five-year average,” says Camgrain operations director Philip Darke.
“Wheat has averaged about 9.5t/ha. It might not sound spectacular, but when the wheat price is somewhere between £180 to £210/tonne, that’s not too bad at all.”
Harvest would usually start in East Anglia and then move West – but that didn’t really happen this year. “We started in all regions almost all at once – and there has been such a long tail it has been a drawn out process.”
In addition, the harvest further north and in Scotland was earlier than usual, compounding the shortage of lorries to move grain in England.
Grain drying in a year like this is vital, says Mr Darke. “If you haven’t got access to a dryer, you’ve got a problem – you can’t go combining in the wet. And if you’ve still got cereals to cut in late September, you are already affecting next year’s crop.
“It’s great when the sun’s out to dry the crop. But if the sun isn’t drying it, you’re not able to get the ground prepared for next year and you can’t drill the following crop promptly – and that’s an impact that is difficult to cost.”
Camgrain serves farmers big and small. “Any larger farming operation has to keep going whenever possible despite the weather – our dryers mean you can do just that. It’s what they do in Scotland – cutting at 20% moisture – and we can do that too.”
Timely harvesting means growers are also capturing quality, says Mr Darke. “If you haven’t got access to a dryer, wet weather can soon turn a quality malting or milling crop into a feed crop – as well as dramatically reducing yield potential every day that it sits in the field waiting to be cut, once maturity is reached.”
Camgrain takes a straightforward approach to all grain which arrives at its processing centres. Founded in 1983, it has years of experience in dealing successfully with grain during harvests much wetter than this year.
“It’s well documented that you should store grain only when its 14-15%,” says Mr Darke. “But that’s assuming that you’re going to be keeping it in your own shed, managing it yourself and maybe selling it throughout the year.
“During the wet harvest of 2008, members cut at up to 23-25%. We didn’t lose quality then despite having less drying power then we have now – munching away at 180 tonnes per hour, all electronically controlled, simplifying the process.
“Central stores can cope with significant volumes of members wetter grain. And that gives members the peace of mind that actually they can get out there and get on at 17-18% moisture – without having to worry too much about it.”
The peace of mind this brings is a key benefit for Camgrain members, says Ross Dawson, the cooperative’s farmer engagement manager. “The weather is our master in this game – it’s about the flexibility to capture quality, whatever the crop,” he adds.
“Central storage is often compared to on farm storage in terms of costs – but people don’t often factor in their own time when they’re talking about on-farm storage, especially the time it takes to manage their own store and move pedestals and fans. And the cost of things like electricity.
“When you store with Camgrain, you can grow whatever the farm needs to grow – and in whatever proportions – without having to worry about splitting your on farm store into two, three or four sections – depending on the crops you grow.”
Another advantage is Camgrain’s ability to target premium markets by blending crops to meet the optimum specification. Working with Frontier, the cooperative is able to guarantee continuity of supply every year in the volume required.
“For a large processor or miller, this is a very attractive proposition,” says Mr Dawson. Rather than dealing with lots of individual farmers, they simply deal with us. It is much more efficient and means we can pass those premiums on to our members.
Big strategic relationships like this make it easier to work with big end-users – whether its delivering 30,000 tonnes of milling wheat to Manchester or 30,000 tonnes of malting barley to Bury St Edmunds.
“Our customers know they will receive a consistent product – large tonnages of grain that has been stored and dried the same way are far easier to deal with than smaller quantities that have all been stored slightly differently on 20 different farms.”
The next five years are likely to see further integration of the supply chain, adds Mr Darke. This will deliver further benefits for farmers, processors and consumers alike. Provenance and traceability will become even more important, says Mr Darke.
Camgrain says more supply chain deals in the pipeline
Camgrain’s supply chain arrangement with oilseed rape processor Yelo is the first of a number of similar agreements said to be in the pipeline. Yelo operates the UK’s only clean – non-hexane – oilseed rape crush at Stratford-Upon-Avon. The processing plant is situated alongside Camgrain’s storage facility – reducing haulage costs and distance.
The state of the art production facility is powered by renewable energy. Yelo believes that keeping the manufacturing process to a minimum helps preserve the natural goodness of the rapeseed, yielding nutritious goods for human and animal consumption.
Camgrain operations director Philip Darke says: “We are proud to be working with Yelo – supplying them with the raw materials required to produce UK-sourced and sustainable products from rapeseed with its unique manufacturing process.
“The long term positive relationship with Camgrain and our farmers is crucial for both parties to minimise supply chain costs, offer supply chain security to growers of oilseed rape and maximise the value members receive for their seed.
Yelo manufactures products such as the sustainable dairy cow feed NovaPro, launched in February 2019, which promises to increase milk yields at a lower cost to the farmer and the environment, thanks to its novel manufacturing process.