WHEN CEREALS supplier Grainfarmers joined forces with the nation”s largest miller Rank Hovis to create the The Rank Hovis Growers Club, commitment and continuity of supply were two of the top benefits.

“It means that growers wishing to specialise in the production of milling wheat on a long-term basis now have a secure end market, and can plan with certainty,” explains Grainfarmers managing director Tim Pollock.

For Rank Hovis, the partnership guarantees an assured supply of raw material and puts visibility into the supply chain, says wheat director Peter Jones. “We know what we will be getting and that our mills can operate at full capacity. Production consistency is very important to any manufacturing business.”

While cynics may suggest Rank Hovis has only entered such an agreement when quality wheat is likely to be in short supply, Mr Jones stresses that the company sources 85% of its wheat from the UK and remains committed to British agriculture.

Farmers within the catchment areas of Rank”s 10 mills are eligible to join, with price contracts in place from harvest 2005, says Mr Pollock. “We are looking for a meaningful commitment. Growers are being asked to sign up for three years and put a minimum of 30% of their production into the scheme.”

Technical workshops and training throughout the growing season will aim to improve grain quality and production profitability. A range of marketing options are available, with agreed minimum and maximum prices, so production can be budgeted.

He believes the partnership between Rank Hovis and Grainfarmers will also improve supply chain efficiency, bringing cost benefits to both sides. “Transport is a good example. Higher fuel prices are adding to the costs of both businesses – by working together we can minimise these.”

Rank Hovis is the right partner for a number of reasons, Mr Pollock emphasises. “It operates at the quality end of the market, it has mills in all the main arable areas and it uses a wide range of wheat types – Group 1, 2 and 3s. That gives us the flexibility to supply what they need and secure the domestic wheat market.”

Standard minimum specifications for Group 1 and 2 wheat are 13% protein, 250 Hagberg, and 76kg/hl specific weight, while for Group 3 wheat the specification is 10.7% protein, 180 Hagberg and 74kg/hl specific weight.

“If we have another harvest like last year, there may be some leniency with Hagbergs,” admits Mr Jones. “But there”s no leniency at all with food safety issues, such as ergot, and never will be.”

louise.impey@fwi.co.uk