Cleaning Auger

I’ve just been in conversation with a farmer about an admixture claim on some milling wheat. Whilst he doesn’t like to see deductions from his grain he is only producing a small tonnage and it is difficult to justify the expense of buying cleaning equipment. I mentioned the cleaning auger from Astwells Augers.  This is a simple yet effective idea that I have seen installed on a farm in Warwickshire.  The inner tube of the auger is perforated and so acts as a screen as the grain passes through the auger.  It is particularly effective at removing small grains like charlock from a sample and is a relatively cheap solution. There is a retrofit pack available to fit to an existing auger or a complete unit can be supplied.  The 4.5″ retrofit costa about £550 and the complete unit about double that. For more information call Astwells Augers on 01832 735300.

Astwell Cleaning Auger


The first loaf of the month was…..

Absolutely delicious thanks to using The Prior’s flour from Foster’s Mill in Swaffham Prior.  I made a Farmhouse white loaf and baps and Farmhouse wholegrain baps.  Between us and the neighbours who popped in, it was slice, munch, gone!  Next up….going for a traditional cottage loaf.


Ok we just made that up, but here is the challenge we made for ourselves.  All bread we have for the month of February is home made (organic of course).  This means all bread, buns, baps, bagels, pizza, pita, naan, and tortillas.  Whew!  It’s going to be busy!  Keep an eye on our facebook page for recipes, photos and results.

#BuyBritish #RedTractor

For those unfamiliar with Twitter the # symbol is used by Twitter users to create a filter to allow certain topics to be followed and in the recent aftermath of the horse meat debacle these two particular “hashtags” have become very popular; #BuyBritish and #RedTractor.  I think the surge of interest in local sourcing is a huge boost for the UK meat industry and challenging consumers’ perceptions and making them think about their food supply system is also good.

How long this enthusiasm will last and whether the Red Tractor scheme is providing the right sort of assurances that consumers require needs to be considered.  If not, it will ultimately disappoint consumer expectations and so the current enthusiasm will wane.

The video below from the Red Tractor website aims to give consumers information about the scheme however the final section is concerning.  The rules that govern the schemes by are formulated without reference to what consumers want.  Surely if the scheme is to be successful and really deliver lasting benefits there is a need for consumers to have a role in formulating the rules.

There is also a further significant issue that the agricultural industry is currently facing.  We are already using large quantities of GM feed ingredients in our animal feeds without labelling the fact despite the government’s own report, “Exploring  Attitudes to GM Foods” indicating that consumers think that all all GM products should be labelled.
Excerpt from Exploring Attitudes to GM Foods p7.
There is a real need to ensure that the food supply system is providing what the customer requires as otherwise no amount of assurance scheme or patriotic fervour maintain the consumer’s confidence in what is produced and once again price will become the sole driver for purchasing decisions.

Italian Kids get organic whilst ours get Horsemeat

An interesting contrast between the values placed on the food we serve our children in schools.

In the UK the media reported last Friday that school meals in Lancashire had tested positive for horse DNA whilst in Milan school children will be served organic fruit thanks to a new partnership between Milano Ristorazione, who produce school meals in the city of Milan and the marketing co-op, Garanzia AIAB.  Starting with oranges the intention is that organic apples will also be served once the supply chain has been established.

This reflects the importance placed on providing high quality food to schoolchildren and engaging them in the production and supply of their food and improving their understanding of the environmental issues around food supply.

The statement below from the Garanzia AIAB does not mention price but focuses on health and environment.  Again a contrast from the comments made by Iceland boss, Malcolm Walker suggesting that  local authority buying policies for schools and hospitals were responsible for driving down quality and therefore indirectly responsible for the horse-meat scandal.

“Adoption of organic food in the school canteen has a fundamental significance to the health of children and the quality of food offered, without residues of chemicals used in conventional agriculture-added Catherine Santori, vice president AIAB -. The food offered in the cafeteria to children and teenagers can be, therefore, a means through which to provide the basics of a healthy diet and to understand the environmental impact of agricultural methods of production, processing, transportation and food preparation. Knowledge of the environmental burden of food may influence, therefore, today’s children and tomorrow’s adults to make informed choices in the future for their food, eating seasonal produce from organic farming. ” 

It seems clear that the majority of our food retailers do not value our food production and see the least cost model as the predominant model governing the food industry.  Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our current food supply chains, take a leaf from the Italians’ book and as producers take responsibility for supplying our products to our customers.  We can then explain to them the values behind high quality food production rather than leaving that to those whose values focus on least cost and little else.

Defra Consultation on Prohibited Products Contamination

Last Autum Defra undertook a consultation on what steps should be taken when an organic product is found to contain a “prohibited product”.  This is something that is not allowed to  be used under organic certification.  Within the organic cereals world this has occasionally happened with both Chlormoquat and Glyphosate being detected in organic oat products.

This is a difficult subject for the organic world to discuss as most consumers believe organic products are pesticide free.  And for the most part they are.  However, sometimes products that are not permitted to be used in organic production systems appear in organic products and

Lets not fail our new organic consumers

Given the horse-meat scandal which continues to fill column inches with daily revelations it seems likely that the organic food sector is going to have a fair number of new customers.  They may be coming to us for the first time or returning to us having seen that the cheap food myth leads to unacceptable practice whether criminal or fraudulent or simply unpalatable.  The truth is that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and most consumers want to know what they are buying, want to trust their food supply system and now accept they may have to pay a bit more to get what they want.

However the organic sector need to be careful about how we fulfill this new demand for high quality food as it is built on a very different basis from when we last saw growth in the market.  Back in 2004/5 the growth was lifestyle-fuelled with celebrity chefs and pop stars leading the way and boosting sales as the masses followed fashion.  It was great while it lasted and some of those customers realised the values that sit behind organic produce and continued to buy.  However the fashion changed when the “credit crunch” hit and many of the dedicated followers of fashion followed the fashion that said in “austerity Britain” organic was no longer cool.  That it was now cool to buy cheap.

What we have now feels different.  Consumer are looking at food not as a fashion item but instead are making their decisions based on values of high quality food, short supply chains and most importantly trust in the supply chain.

The ideal is to live next to a butcher who buys his beef and lamb from the farmer on the edge of the town where you walk your dog at the weekend.  Or to you live in Harpenden, walk through the wheat fields at Hammonds End Farm to Redbournbury Mill to buy your bread.

However life is more complicated that that for most and we need more complex supply chains to get our food from field to fork.  That does not mean we have to accept poor quality, low animal welfare or cost cutting poor practice.  The other way is to look for a marque that provides the values we want and a marque we can trust.

Organic is that marque.  It is the only legally defined term within the food sector meaning anyone defrauding the standards can be prosecuted for so doing.  No other terms such as “high welfare”, “environmentally friendly” have this legitimacy.  Organic Certification requires an rigorous annual inspection of farms, food processors and those like Organic Arable who act as intermediaries.  We are all inspected, our systems checked and verified.   And the inspectors are also certified and regulated by Defra.  No other scheme has, such as “Conservation Grade” of “Freedom Food” have such a rigorous regime in place.

Most importantly the organic “brand” encompasses many of these positive benefits that the consumer values and is willing to pay a premium to buy within a single word.

Organic Food:

  • reduces your exposure to pesticides
  • bans the use of GM products and other dietary nasties such as hydrogenated fats and aspartame
  • provides higher animal welfare standards
  • improves wildlife on farms
  • reduces the energy consumes in producing food.

In most EU states the term organic is seen as a shortcut to the many values consumers are looking for and rather than understand each one they buy organic because it ticks all the boxes not just some.    We, the organic sector, need to do better at making this apparent to our shoppers in the UK who are looking for better.  And the great thing is this can still be achieved conveniently through a supermarket or a national delivery service if access, or opportunity, to buy from the local farm shop or butcher is limited as it is for so many.

Organic should become the shortcut for the values the customers are seeking delivered in the way the modern shopper requires.

However we in the organic sector should not be complacent.  Yes, we produce high quality food with many of the values that consumers want but we have significant challenges ahead of us if we are to fulfill the potential demands of neo-organic buyer.  They are coming to us with high expectations and it is imperative that we maintain our standards, continue to deliver all the values outlined above and the integrity of organic food so the trust the organic shopper puts  in us is not broken.

Interesting New Weeder

This looks like the answer to every organic farmers dream.

Currently they are not available in the UK but if there is demand I’m sure they could be.  The cost for an 8 metre machine is approx £22000.  

If you’re interested  in seeing one in the flesh please let us know as it will help persuade the Swedes to bring over a demonstrator.

Confused of Cambridgeshire

"What have the HGCA ever done for us?"

This morning’s post brought us an invoice from HGCA for a late payment of the levy collected from producers.  Naughty us.  But let’s just put this into perspective.

The levy is due on all grain marketed up to and including the 30th June 2012.  After that date we have to then collect and process the weight tickets from hauliers and process this information to calculate the value of the levy collected to be paid to HGCA.

As a small business we try and keep our admin to a minimum and try and so are not doing payment runs every day.  We have also had two members of staff take holiday during mid/late July.  As a result our HGCA levy payment was scheduled for our payment run on 21st August.  It should have been paid by the Friday 17th August.  On Monday 20th August, one day after it should have been paid they had raised a penalty invoice amounting to approximately 8% of the levy due to them.

Running a business requires close scrutiny of cashflow and it could be seen as laudable that HGCA are so keen to ensure that they receive the levy on time.  However it stikes Organic Arable as