Defra grant to boost Norfolk grain business

Yare Grain near Cantley.( L to R) Grain store manager Andrew Dewing with senior director Andrew Alst

Yare Grain near Cantley.( L to R) Grain store manager Andrew Dewing with senior director Andrew Alston.Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

A £1.9m project to create an advanced grain processing centre in Broadland has been given a major boost.

The farmer-owned business, Yaregrain, has been offered a grant of more than £750,000 towards the third phase of a five-year project to add value to locally-grown grain.

This will help to create Norfolk's first specialist grain facility at Cantley, which will make it possible to blend cereals and also deliver guaranteed high-quality products direct to food companies.

Since the company raised more than £1m in share capital to acquire the site, which had 5,000 tonnes of storage, in 2011, it then added a further 4,000 tonnes of bin storage by last year's harvest.

This third phase will involve potential investment of about £3m in three years, said a director, Broadland farmer Andrew Alston, of Catfield. The total capacity will increase to about 15,000 tonnes of grains, mostly in bins, by next harvest.

Yaregrain, which applied for a Defra grant by mid-February, plans to have the APU (advanced processing unit) ready for harvest 2014.

However, to meet the offer's terms, it must raise £450,000 in additional funding by selling 60 'B' shares with 100 tonnes storage, by January 31.

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'This will enable Phase III to kick off as long as there is the matched funding and support from farmers and shareholders, said Mr Alston, who first considered the APU concept about seven years ago.

The site, which has permission for 30,000 tonnes of storage, has been improved in stages since it was bought by Yaregrain plc.

'We're going to upgrade every conveyor on the site to 120 tonnes an hour, so it will have a very quick intake, said Mr Alston.

'It is going to be a modern grain store, with new drier and new cleaning equipment and colour sorting equipment. It will have all the facilities we need for advanced grain processing in this phase,' he added.

This would enable crops including wheat, barley, peas, beans and oilseed rape to be graded, sorted and transformed from a bulk commodity for the specific demands of the food industry, said merchant Andrew Dewing, of Aylsham Grain, which manages the site. His small team with site manager Ivor Brinded, who has been at Cantley for about 30 years, includes Will Mallett.

It also enables organic farmers and growers to access dedicated storage, he added. 'This gives the farmers the opportunity to improve a product up to a specification or gives the security of achieving a contract, which is the most important element,' said Mr Dewing.

'On a high-priced contract the presence of awns and broken grains could cost the grower up to £40 per tonne in deductions and penalties. By coming through a central site it could be made good and cleaned up, said Mr Dewing.

'It is the only facility in Norfolk which will have this modern equipment. There are other screening units but this will have the full range of equipment with modern intake. Everything is going to be completely bespoke.'

'We will be able to take twice the intake and zap it to any bin inside or via the drier or the dresser, whatever we choose. We will be able to handle grains to food standard grade,' said Mr Dewing.

And from the farmer's point of view, it should help with risk management. 'When you've taken the risk of growing a crop and spending £300 an acre to meet contract specification, this will help reduce the financial risk, ' said Mr Alston. And it will also help farmers match their harvesting potential in the field to their storage needs.

As a member of the Delta farming group, he said that they lacked the facilities to handle and process grain. 'The combine was slowing down at harvest time, we couldn't keeping it going but this means that we can keep the combine going up to 19pc moisture content,' he added.

Mr Dewing was also managing a store at Aylsham with intake and conveyor as built in 1981. 'Since that time how much have combines increased capacity?

'This will be a 2014 grain store with better facilities compared with one that was basically dating from the 1980s,' he added.

The funding of £761,534.10 has been obtained through Defra and the European Agricultural Fund for rural development: Europe Investing in Rural Areas.