Norfolk farmers seek �1.5m for grain initiative

A �1.5m project to boost the value of locally-grown grain was launched yesterday by the directors at Yaregrain's Cantley store.

A �1.5m project to boost the value of locally-grown grain was launched yesterday by the directors at Yaregrain's Cantley store.

The farmer-owned and independent company aims to build Norfolk's first dedicated 'advanced grain processing unit' as part of the scheme to produce food-grade cereals and pulses.

It will enable the potential value of wheat, barley, peas, beans and oilseed rape to be transformed from a bulk commodity to a high-grade food product, said East Norfolk farmer and founder director Charles Bracey.

Since the company raised more than �1m in share capital to acquire the Cantley site with its existing 5,000 tonnes of bin storage last year, it had added 4,000 tonnes of capacity. The gleaming new silos were completed ready for last year's harvest.

The directors briefed shareholders and potential investors about the company's third phase. This will involve raising �1.5m by selling rights for 20,000 tonnes of storage and building the 'advanced processing unit', which is planned for completion by harvest 2013. Each B share, which will carry the right to store 100 tonnes of grain, will cost �7,500.

As the latest window for grant applications closes in April, the directors need commitment in order to make a formal request for grant funding, worth up to a maximum of �1m to install the APU.

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East Norfolk farmer and founder director Andrew Alston, who farms at Catfield, told the 80-strong audience the APU would enhance marketing options for farmers. He noted, too, that Cambridge University's latest authoritative farm business survey had revealed grain prices for the 2010 harvest year in East Norfolk around Acle and Great Yarmouth were among the lowest three areas in eastern England.

The APU would increase the value of grain to food grade because it could take out split and cracked grains, colour separate and upgrade peas and beans from feed to human consumption standards.

Merchant Andrew Dewing, of Aylsham-based Dewing Grain, who is also a YareGrain director, handled 12,000 tonnes of grain through the Cantley site last year.

Mr Bracey added: 'Farmers will deliver a commodity here which we will sell as 'food' and purchasers could be cereal manufacturers like Jordan's or biscuit manufacturers. It takes grain from the farm level to what goes out as fit for human consumption.'

'We think this APU can really score. I'm expecting the customers will be those wanting food quality product to be delivered. It will give us more marketing options,' said Mr Bracey, who recalled that four years ago five loads of his Maris Otter malting barley was rejected by a merchant.

'The specification was 1.6pc nitrogen, my sample was 1.62pc, so it was very close but not quite there.

'All five loads were rejected. That cost me �100 per tonne and �15,000. I know what the merchant did was completely legal but it was, in my opinion, immoral. He knew that I couldn't do anything else with it and putting it very politely that I was in a corner. He took full advantage.

'If we have this new facility, it could have been blended with other grain. I might have had �4 or �5 tonne penalty but that's of no consequence.'

Mr Alston said YareGrain took in spring barley at 2.1pc and 2.2pc this harvest. As it could be blended with other consignments, it met the contract specification. As Mr Bracey added: 'Had I been with that particular merchant, I'd have been stitched up again but my barley came here and I got �275 per tonne.'

With the cost of building new farm storage about �125 per tonne, Mr Alston added that buying 100 tonnes of storage represented a �75 tonne investment. And the cost of moving grain to Cantley was often reasonable, said Mr Bracey, who hired a lorry to move grain from Witton, by the hour, at a cost of about �3 per tonne last harvest. 'It was lot less hassle than using a tractor and trailer,' he added.