A Hertfordshire farmer who has always considered that professionally run crop storage is important is now offering farmers the use of his storage facilities
A Hertfordshire farmer who has always considered that professionally run crop storage is just as important as professionally grown crops is now offering farmers in the area the use of his state-of-the-art storage facilities on a no-nonsense handling and charging basis. David Williams reports.David Rand admits he is obsessed with crop storage, but says he considers this an essential quality for someone making his living from growing and trading his produce. “We hear all the time about how we can gain a little extra from various field techniques, or how much we could lose through pest or disease damage in the field,” he says, “but we seldom discuss the losses which occur every year in the corn store.The industry just tends to consider that when the crop is in the store at the correct moisture content, then there is nothing to worry about until we come to trade it, and at that point we are paid for what is supplied, but ignore what has been lost during the storage process, or downgraded due to low specification. Often that is just as significant as the losses in the field that we try so hard to prevent. The key is to arrest those losses as far as possible.”David (pictured left) farms near Royston and in 1993, while farming 1,200ha (3,000 acres) of cereals of his own and for managed farms, his operation was being limited by the out-dated dryer and storage facility he had available at that time. “It was in the middle of a village and while we tried to be considerate to the local population, the noise during the night could be a problem. We approached the planning department and were given permission to develop a green-field site away from any other habitation where we could build the sort of cleaning, drying and storage facility that we required,” he explains.
Now the farmed land extends to 3,630ha (9,000 acres), David’s two sons Rob and Charlie run the farm and a straw baling contracting business while David, with a full-time store manager, looks after the grain storage.The family farm’s cropping includes approximately 50 per cent wheat, 25 per cent rape, and the remaining land is divided equally between oats and sugar beet. Predominantly light land, the farm tries to avoid growing second wheats, but concentrates on Group 4 wheats, sold straight into the futures market.The land is all within a 16 mile radius of the Royston base in 11 blocks and some areas are block-cropped while the contract-farmed land tends to have its own internal rotations. “The focus with our contract farming is to look after each individual farmer and to do the best we can for him, and it is just the same with our crop storage service,” comments Rob.Since building its original 10,000t store at the site, every two years the family has invested in further storage, and has built up its business drying, blending and storing cereals for local farmers and traders. Capacity is now more than 100,000t and all cereals are accommodated. Recent investment includes a fully-equipped laboratory meeting full assurance standards and staffed by up to five technicians during harvest. It is benchmarked daily against others nationwide through the NIR and Openfield ring check, and has always been within the top two per cent for accuracy.
“We have been storing predominantly for the trade but the tailored service we offer farmers has proven popular and is growing year on year,” explains David. “They like the flexible approach and because we are farmers ourselves, we understand what others in the industry want and need; we talk the same language and provide that service for them. No up-front charges
David explains that one of the key benefits of storing with Rand Brothers is that there are no up-front charges while many other farmer-owned stores require that users invest annually to build up an equity as a capital investment. “Obviously that has its benefits but it ties users in for a considerable period of time,” he explains, “and if the farm’s needs change and it needs to cash-in on that equity there is no guarantee that releasing it will be easy, as it requires someone else to want to invest. Many farmer users of our store have come to us because their own stores have become inadequate or outdated and are in need of significant investment but they would prefer not to lock up their equity. Having to pay an annual fee to build up equity in a store over which they have no direct control is often not an attractive option so by storing with us they gain financial flexibility.Loading wheat in one of the stores. Constant availability of staff and dedicated equipment to handle the crops means a quick turnaround for hauliers.
“All we ask is that users commit for one year but we are keen to build long-term relationships encouraging them to store with us year after year. We believe that providing straightforward storage with no hidden conditions or charges will encourage growers to try our service, and we are convinced they will like it,” he adds. “It’s a pay as you go scheme, but with top quality facilities, and the service is what we would want to have available to us as farmers if we were looking for storage.” High demand expected
Even with the large capacity available at Hatch Pen Farm, David believes demand might easily exceed supply; “We are excited and proud to be able to offer this sort of facility, but its advantages for growers mean it could become over-subscribed and it would certainly help us if potential users would contact us as early as possible with an indication of what they would like to store with us, which will help us with our planning.”There is a fulltime store manager, who has an experienced team to enable the Rand Store to accept up to 5,000t of cereals per day, direct from the field if required. Two plated weighbridges combined with an automated sampling system allow loads to be tipped quickly allowing trailers to return to the fields. For crops needing cleaning or drying, the 100t/hr dryer, and the cleaning and blending plant mean that once tipped the load becomes the responsibility of the store, allowing the grower to get on with harvest. Rand Brothers is working with North Herts Farmers’ transport co-ordinator to arrange collection of crop from farms if required.Drying and cleaning
After delivery, farmers are sent a spreadsheet detailing what has been delivered either by email or post, but any out of specification deliveries will be advised immediately providing an option for the grower. The Rands have installed a 0.75 MW solar installation at the store, which enables drying and cleaning costs to be very competitive.The Rands’ prices appear attractive. For drying rape from 10.1-11.0 per cent local businesses are charging 9/t with some further afield charging up to 13/t. The Rands’ proposed charge for 2014 is just 2/t – and the business lists its scale of charges on its website. “As farmers we have to get the grain off the field as early as possible. Our prices will allow growers to harvest for longer each day, without them worrying that the drying charges are going to become too expensive.”Wheat in store. Sales are handled by North Herts Farmers, a long-established farmer-owned marketing group.David said one aspect of dealing with commercial stores providing a drying service which has often annoyed him is the automatic weight reduction applied in terms of crop delivered just because there is drying needed. “Often the deductions are way higher than they need to be,” he says. “Yes, when moisture is removed there is a weight loss, but the weight adjustment applied to what the farmer is paid should be in line with the actual reduction – and usually what is agreed in the ‘small print’ is considerably more. We will adjust the tonnage by an amount relevant to the moisture removed, and it will be clearly stated in advance, and for rape delivered in at nine per cent or below, we won’t apply any weight adjustment at all.”It’s the same for admixture adjustments,” he adds, “the cost should be fairly applied and should reflect the actual amount of admixture within the load delivered to us.”A dedicated store for rape, with a capacity of 40,000t is available. “We have many years of experience of storing oilseed rape. Our oilseed rape marketing partner is ADM Direct, a business we have worked with for many years,” says David. “Because it is harvested first, and farmers usually need stores for other crops harvested later, it is often the first crop off the farms so we store for farmers as well as for merchants. All of what we store goes for crushing. We will be offering a straightforward and transparent service whereby the crop comes over the weighbridge, is analysed, and any deductions are immediately determined and agreed direct between the farmer and the store.”North Herts Farmers is the Rand’s cereals marketing partner and will be handling the sales of wheat from the store. The group is owned by local farmers and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012. Mike Sheppard is the co-operative’s grain trader; “We are a long established business and can focus on the needs of local farmers,” he explains. “We act for our members and our job is to enhance the value of what they are selling. We have no storage of our own. Many farmers want to grow Group 4 wheats and this new store allows farmers to store competitively and offer their wheat into our newly registered LIFFE Futures Store, receiving a delivered store price. We are the largest supplier to a number of mills in the area, and to premium markets for milling wheats and we always ensure that those selling through us know where their crop is going, and why.””North Herts Farmers is much respected in the area, and enjoys considerable trust from growers. In building our storage business, choosing the right partner was very important to us. We are offering a trusted, transparent simple service for storage and it had to be the same for the marketing,” explains David.Futures marketing option
Those using the store can also enjoy an additional marketing option; the store is registered for trading grain on the futures market, Rands’ quality assurance systems meeting the stringent requirements. “On the futures market grain is sold ex-store and LIFFE sets the quality standard and pays the seller,” explains David. “This means the price is set and it is up to the buyer to arrange and finance collection of the produce.”The Rands say that selling grain through their store should be just as easy as from farmers’ own stores, and even more convenient in that the permanently-staffed facility is equipped with high capacity handling equipment allowing lorries to be loaded quickly and easily.
“Convenient, independent, cost-effective and easy-to-use crop storage with nothing hidden in small print, fair drying and cleaning costs and satisfied users is what we are aiming for,” says David. “They bring the grain in, we test it, then we look after it for as long as they want until they decide to sell. They remain in full control, and just pay us to store it for them. It couldn’t be more convenient, and is extremely cost-effective. We are sure they will
like it.” The two weighbridges mean a smooth flow of traffic can be maintained. Automatic sampling and a fully-staffed laboratory allows up to 5,000t per day to be accepted into store.