Nurturing Understanding – reaping benefits

On 18th March a Organic Arable brought together organic farmers, some buyers of both animal feeds and human consumption grains and other stakeholders to explore how the organic grain market could work better under the title – “Nurturing Understanding  – reaping benefits”.

The day was chaired by Lawrence Woodward and there were presentations from Raymond Hilman, Whites Speedicook and Andrew Trump, Organic Arable.  In addition the audience were asked to consider in groups what a perfect grain contract would look like and why there is not better co-operation within the supply chain.

The presentations are available here:

Organic Arable Market Situation

Organic Arable Market Situation

Raymond Hilman's Presentation

Working Together

The first presentation by Andrew Trump set the scene for the current organic market seeing it in a global perspective.   Whilst the UK is seeing some small signs of growth in organic sales it lags well behind other international markets in Europe but particularly the strength of the US market.  At £24 billion the US organic market is 43% of global organic sales and grew by 11% in 2014 and this annual growth is larger than the whole UK market.

Whilst demand grows supplies of arable crops remain stubbornly static and the traditional suppliers to the USA of combinable crops, Canada, Argentina, Australia and South Africa are not seeing significant additional conversion of organic land and certainly insufficient to feed US demand.  In the USA grain prices have risen dramatically and this combined with the strength of the US Dollar against international currencies has led the US to look to new countries to fulfil their demand.  Of particular importance to the UK and Europe is the presence of the US in the Black Sea.  In 2014 US purchases of Romanian maize grew from $454,000 in 2013 to over $11,000,000.

A combination of a rapidly growing market, a strong currency and the volume requirements the US need to feed their organic livestock sector is likely to make them an influential entrant into the European market in the short to medium term.  They will also have an influence as they start to buy processed product out of Europe in greater volumes, for example there was recently talk of a need for additional butter requirements to fulfil the US market for shortbread.

The possibility of GM commercialisation in Ukraine was raised.  Currently GM free, the political unrest has in Ukraine has led to a greater requirement for international finance and with this (whether directly or indirectly) there seems to have been a move towards a softening in the position towards GM cultivation amongst several Ukrainian agricultural organisations.  The prospect of GM cultivation of maize would add uncertainty to the supply of organic maize from the region as the possibility of GM contamination would increase.

The conclusions of the presentation were that Black Sea organic supplies would become more expensive and less certain with the greater possibility of supply shocks making it a less certain source of product for the UK.

However, the opportunities to encourage greater supply was also mentioned.  The suggestion was made that with better financial returns available to organic farmers and greater technical support being supplied by the sector it was only the market that was the uncertainty for new entrants.  If better longer term supply opportunities could be developed this uncertainty could be largely removed providing great opportunities for additional organic conversion.

Raymond Hilman from Whites Speedicook then spoke about the supply arrangement they have for organic milling oats with Organic Arable as an exemplar of what can be achieved if buyer and seller work together to overcome supply issues.  Whites Speedicook wanted to improve milling oat quality being delivered to the mill to improve their milling efficiency.  Doing so has allowed them to become more competitive in the market and pay a stable price (with quality premiums) to growers.  This approach has also developed a strong and loyal group of producers who are working hard to improve oat quality as they now understand both the benefits to their business but also their customer with the rewards generate shared.

Additional benefits have accrued as Whites Speedicook have reduced their procurement costs and the group has established a forum to share best practice and a research fund to undertake some trial work to help drive the improvement in oat quality.  Finally, there are social benefits as friendships are formed the growers are now acting as informal advocates for the Whites Speedicook brand.

Comparing Winter Oat Varieties for Quality

With samples starting to go through the lab we have some test results but alongside these we have noticed some visual differences between the varieties.  The advice we have is that bushelweight is not the only determinant of oat quality and as the video below shows there is a significant difference between the size of the grain despite the bushelweight recorded by the lab.

Comparing Mascani & Rozmar


There are also some results back from the winter variety trials run by OSP at Great Brickhill, Bedfordshire and Shimpling Park, Suffolk  that indicate no difference in yield for the varieties in the trial apart from Rozmar  which was lower yielding at Great Brickhill.

Grain quality, measured as bushel weight showed no difference at Shimpling Park with Rhapsody and Selwyn showing a lower bushelweight at Great Brickhill.

OSP Winter Oats Trial Results

OSP Winter Oats Trial Results

All that Yields is not Gold

Before rushing out to buy your oat seed for this autumn based on the Farmers Weekly piece “Three New Oat Varieties for Farmers to Try” look beyond the headlines at the data provided in the HGCA recommended List for oats.  Whilst Rhapsody does have a higher yield that Mascani both the Kernel Content and Hullability scores are well below Mascani.  The same is true for the new spring variety Monaco which again scores poorly for both Kernel Content and Hullability against a well tested variety such as Firth.    Monaco also has a very poor mildew score which may become of more importance as growers move oats further forward in their rotation.

For varietal recommendations and seed prices for growing organic oats please call 08456 521 706.

Whites Eastern Organic Oat Group Farm Walk

We are meeting on 26th June at 10.00 (until about 13.00) at Hammonds End Farm to have a farm walk to look at the effect, if any, of the application of Maxicrop. which Howard has been using on his oats (and other crops) this year. Maxicrop is claimed to stimulate chlorophyll production in the leaf, stimulate soil biological activity and  and reduce stress experienced by plants.

brix testerWe will have a look at a Brix test to assess the difference in the nutrient levels in the leaves which may give us some indication as to whether the Maxicrop has had any effect.  Ultimately the test will be the quality of the grain that is produced but hopefully some simple assessments at the field lefel can help us all understand how close we are to achieving the goal of better grain quality.

Please let Kathy know if you are coming on 08456 521 706


“If it ain’t good enough to sow, it ain’t good enough to sell”

In the last month or so we have had some loads of oats tested for which the screenings have increased from a perfectly respectable level at below 5% to levels approaching 10% or even higher.

One possible reason for this is that farmers are cleaning their home-saved spring seed and then dumping the out-turn from the mobile cleaner back onto the heap.

This leads to costs in either claims or additional cleaning.  One recent example saw a through store weight loss of approximately 16% despite the screenings testing at about 11%.  In order to remove the screenings the load needed to be cleaned twice which clearly resulted in additional losses.

As we move forwards with premiums payable for improved oat quality it will increasingly be false economy to continue the practice of adding seed cleanings to your grain.  Please put them in the feed bin or heap for the gamekeeper and remember the adage, “If it ain’t good enough to sow, it ain’t good enough to sell”

The muesli-maker who began in a squat

Alex Smith, founder of Alara

So why should organic cereal farmers be interested in Alex and his business model?

Alex’s story is an interesting one.  Clearly a man of principle who has developed his business in line with these principles and has found customers who support these values.   Alex is now a significant buyer of organic oat flakes.  But why is this important?  It is important because every tonne of oat flakes is over one and a half tonnes of oat grain. It is important because Alex likes to know where his oats are sourced and takes an interest in his suppliers and he has taken the trouble to listen.

He attended a meeting we held back in November.  Listened to farmers’ need to have a stable market and has now placed an order for oats for the next two seasons.  Great for him as he now knows who will be growing his oats for his delicious museli (Organic Rich Muesli is a personal favourite) and porridge products and great for the farmers who know they have a  secure market for their grain.  And just as importantly great for those thousands of consumers who like Alara as they will have the best quality organic oats for their breakfast for the next few years.

We like this way of doing business: to understand our customers requirements, committing to supply them and work together to develop our respective businesses in partnership.

The muesli-maker who began in a squat | Behind the scenes | Life and style | The Guardian.