Farmers in the north west are optimistic the decision by Frontier grain to switch to UK-produced wheat for refining into alcohol and starches will increase demand for the crop in the region.

The Cerestar plant, which is expected to process about 750,000t annually, will be based at Trafford Park, Manchester.

Frontier currently uses maize imported from France for processing into highly refined sugars like dextrose.

The switch to domestically produced wheat, however, was not taken lightly and has meant a substantial investment in a new mill and processing facility.

John Duffy of Frontier, a subsidiary of Cargill which owns the plant, says the development represents the biggest investment of its kind in the UK wheat crop.

“From March/April next year we will switch to using only UK grown wheat for processing starch into refined sugars and hope to start talking to producers in the coming months about issues of supply and possibly setting up producer clubs,” said Mr Duffy.

Cheshire farmer and chairman of the NFU’s regional combinable crops board Richard Reeves said the new plant could give some necessary stability to the region’s arable producers.

“This year’s SFP is £80/acre – when we get it.

But in five years it could be as low as £40, so north west growers will need £90/t for wheat to just about break even.

“If the sums don’t add up north west cereal growers will simply stop growing unless there’s an alternative market; the new plant could save the day to some degree,” says Mr Reeves.

Although Cargill has not yet indicated how much they will offer growers, the impact of the Cerestar plant as a market for north west crops could create extra demand for the 2.5m tonnes that is currently exported.

Rowena Hammon, policy adviser with the NFU’s regional combinable crops board, described the investment in the new plant as a valuable opportunity to wheat growers in the north west.

As Farmers Weekly went to press a meeting was taking place with north west arable growers and representatives from Frontier to discuss the new plant’s supply requirements.

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com