A decision by Kellogg’s to secure supplies of wheat from British cereal growers is good news for the arable sector, believes the company’s senior sustainability manager, Richard Burkinshaw.
The idea behind the move is to make a long-term difference to the farms involved – by working together to provide the tools and knowledge required to improve yields and profitability – while also bringing environmental benefits at the field level, he explains.
For this reason, access to financial support from Kellogg’s, rather than an additional grain premium is given to farmer groups participating in the wheat Origins Programme, adds Mr Burkinshaw. “This way, the groups develop solutions for their own farming systems.”
Information exchange and the positive effects that it can bring are central to the Origins Programme, he explains. “Connecting farmers with consumers is an inevitable consequence of our involvement, but really this is all about partnership.”
The partners in the UK initiative include two millers, Bowmans and Heygates, the farmer co-operative Openfield, technical agronomy group NIAB TAG, as well as Rothamsted Research, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, HGCA and EFFP. All have been chosen for the expertise that they can bring.
Not surprisingly, Kellogg’s is keen to know where the wheat used in its breakfast cereals is coming from and who is growing it, both for provenance and food safety, he acknowledges. “But by taking a whole farm approach to procurement, we believe that our growers will get a long-term reward, which will add to their business success.”
Initially, the company’s requirement for Group 3 and soft Group 4 varieties is being supplied by two grower groups, who are taking part in a pilot scheme through the company’s Origins Programme.
At this stage, both are small groups of just eight members – one based in Yorkshire and the other in Northamptonshire – although the intention is to expand capacity over a two-year period. “It’s a very different approach from that taken by other food companies and there will be some fine-tuning as we receive feedback,” notes Mr Burkinshaw.
It is based on the same principles as an Origins Programme for sourcing rice in Spain, which now has over 30 farmer members and is in its second year, he reveals.
“In two years, these growers have seen significant yield increases and better resource efficiency. And they’ve been able to measure the results.”
Origins growers participate in four technical meetings each year, which involve classroom-based training, visits to showcase farms and best practice implementation. Each group has identified issues that they require support for, including soil health, grass weed control, grain quality and CAP greening.
“These are relevant to the whole rotation, not just the crop being grown for Kellogg’s,” concludes Mr Burkinshaw. “We want any benefits to stay on the farm forever.”
Case study: Ian Backhouse, East Yorkshire
Having access to the facilities and advice offered by the Origins Programme had immediate appeal to Ian Backhouse, who farms 320ha of cereals, sugar beet and grassland near Goole in East Yorkshire.
A founder member of the Yorkshire-based grower group and an HGCA board member, Mr Backhouse is not interested in committing to restrictive grain contracts, which stipulate how he has to produce his wheat.
“I don’t want to be dictated to about where I can buy my fertiliser from or what environmental scheme I should be in, just to be able to sell my wheat,” he explains. A collaborative approach, where he works in partnership with the buyer and other growers, is preferred. “I can benefit from the free advice that this type of arrangement produces. I’m having my hand held, not tied behind my back.”
Without Kellogg’s, he would have to pay for the advice and guidance that he is receiving free of charge through the scheme.
“Niab Tag is one of the partners, for example, so I get my subscription to the organisation as part of the scheme.”
He points out that this is only the first year of Origins, but adds that he is pleased with the support n given to date. “I’m looking forward to delivering our first wheat into the scheme this harvest.”
His commitment is to deliver 400t of Alchemy to Kellogg’s. “Variety is the only concession I’ve had to make. Normally I would go for the highest yielding soft wheat, as there are plenty of local markets for wheat up here.”
Other breakfast cereal manufacturers in the marketKellogg’s isn’t the only breakfast cereal manufacturer keen to work more closely with UK growers: farmers belonging to Gleadell’s Weetabix Growers Club could soon be sending more high quality wheat to the Northamptonshire-based cereal company, which is embarking on a major drive to break into the Chinese market.
Speaking at last month’s Cereals event, Weetabix operations director Duncan McIntyre said the company already exported to 80 countries, but was keen to push further into markets like Russia, India and particularly China.
“We are 60% owned by Bright Foods, one of China’s biggest food groups, which is also extensively involved in retail,” he said. “This gives us a direct route to the Chinese consumer. Health trends are now mirroring those in the west, so there is huge potential.”
Gleadell is Weetabix’s largest wheat supplier. Members of the Growers Club, established in 2010, must grow wheat within 50 miles of the Burton Latimer factory. Grain must also meet strict standards – a minimum specific weight of 72kg/hl, 15% moisture, maximum DON of 500, and no sprouted grains.
In addition, growers must be in entry-level or higher-level stewardship, reflecting the company’s aim to support sustainable farming practices with minimal environmental impact, said Gleadell regional manager Trevor Gates.
The reward is a useful premium on Group 3 and 4 wheats, explained Mr Gates. “But there is no room for compromise – we need top-quality wheat. For that reason our growers tend to be in the top quartile of farmers.”