Friday, December 15, 2017

Grain storage allows farmer contractor to offer big benefits

August 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Profiles

MidFrmr-140716-Rowe

A new purpose-built grain store is set to bring benefits for FW Rowe & Sons. 

A new 10,000t grain store – phase one of a planned 30,000t facility – aims to generate a separate income stream for the 2000ha (5000acre) in-hand and contract farming operation run by FW Rowe & Sons from Comberford Lodge Farm, near Tamworth, Staffordshire.

Like all arable farms, the family-run business is subject to the vagaries of the world commodity market prices for grains, oilseeds and pulses, says David Rowe, joint owning partner along with brother Philip and father Bill.

“Income from letting out grain storage wouldn’t incur that volatility. Our aim is to have a drying plant, weighbridge and lab on site for our own use but also to attract a large merchant – initial talks have already begun.”

The development at the family’s Woodingway Farm, Harlaston, has been made possible by the release of old buildings to make way for a new residential development – a process that started in 1999.

Today, construction of two initial adjoining 5000t insulated crop stores has been completed. These are housed in 18m (60ft) x 70m (200ft) sheds with 6m (20ft) high solid concrete walls. The design allows additional adjacent stores to be added later without incurring unnecessary construction costs.

A 30t Opico mobile batch drier is used currently to reduce grain moisture content where needed. Once in store, a bank of 12 drying fans for each shed uses night air to cool grains to below 10 degrees, explains Mr Rowe.

Different

“Drying and cooling grain is enormously different. You generally cannot go more than three meters deep when drying. When cooling you actually need less ducts the deeper you go which is counter-intuitive,” he explains.

Underfloor ducting has been chosen instead of pedestal driers for better air flow characteristics. Care has been taken to ensure water and condensation build up in the ducts can be drawn away from the grain floor.

Remote sensors in-store will help monitor the crop’s stability. “During harvest 2015 we were able to cool 5000t of wheat heaped to 34ft down from 25 degrees C to seven degrees over five nights. Once there, grain is incredibly stable,” he adds.

Extra storage will also allow greater flexibility to react to grain market price fluctuations to the benefit of the family and its contract farming customers.

Currently, a third of stores are marketed forward for cash-flow purposes, another third before the calendar year end and the remainder before the following harvest before which all profit share agreements are settled.

“Plans also include construction of twin intake pits allowing crops to be tipped separately but at the same time where harvest conditions dictate,” explains Mr Rowe. “Each store will have roof conveyors eventually rather than needing to push up or auger grain into place,” he adds.

Capacity is a core theme for the business which has grown steadily since the 1970s. Cropping is focused on feed cereals, oilseed rape (a consistent performer over combineable peas achieving 1.8t/ac) and 52ha (130ac) of potatoes grown on a ‘lift and shift’ basis for packer AB Produce at Measham. “We don’t have the right soil type to maintain skin finish,” explains Mr Rowe.

Harvesting capacity for all crops is key. The business moved in 2015 from running a trio of wheeled combines (New Holland CR90.90 and CR960s) to two tracked CR10.90s fitted with 40ft headers. “On tracked harvestors the header is more stable when traversing arable fields,” he says.

Trailer capacity

“Our limitation at harvest is trailer capacity so we try to operate one combine close to store,” he explains. Contract farmed ground is spread over a 20-mile radius and includes Bagots Park, near Abbots Bromley.

The entire operation is centralised on trust between land owner/tenants and the operator. All costs – including grain drying and storage – are averaged out across the whole farm area; the same principle being applied to crop revenue.

“It’s a very simply system of accounting and customers appreciate that,” says Mr Rowe.

Daughter Gemma, along with Mr Rowe’s wife Rachel, handles the administration. Contract charges are levied quarterly with each customer being given a breakdown of inputs used and an end of year summary of expenditure and revenue in an easy-to-read spreadsheet designed in-house.

“The benefit of our contract farming agreement is it leaves each customer the option as to what to do with their buildings. Some rent them out as storage; others have diversified. And rather than holding stocks of fertiliser and sprays for their individual operations (which range typically from 200-500ac) they only get billed for what’s used and have no left-over stock to manage.”

Extra acres could be accommodated but must be a good fit for the existing business and its customers, he suggests. Technology is helping ensure inputs are used effectively using data from yield mapping and application controls such as auto steer and shut-off on equipment.

Centralising storage is just another step forward for the business and its customers, says Mr Rowe. “Merchants don’t want to send a HGV on to several individual farms to collect small tonnages of left-over cereal. It adds an unwanted cost. So centralising storage makes sense.”

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