18 December 1998

Drive towards grain assurance moves up a gear

By Charles Abel

MOVES by Allied Mills to encourage assured grain supplies (Business, Dec 11) signal the start of real benefits for assured grain producers in England and Wales, says Jonathan Tipples, chairman of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme.

"Until now we have had complaints from assured growers that there is no advantage from producing assured grain. Now merchants will want to know if grain is assured and if the answer is no, they will have some problems placing it. It is a real turning point."

A price differential will emerge within the market, he agrees. But he dismisses the suggestions of some merchants that 50% discounts may apply to unassured grain by harvest 2000 (see News). "All grain on the world market and from intervention is currently unassured, so that will set the price."

Evidence of real benefits should generate the 5-6000 new members ACCS wants to sign up before its Dec 31 deadline for guaranteed assurance by harvest 1999, he adds.

According to Allied Mills wheat director, Charlie Fillingham, the reason for introducing measures to actively encourage assurance (see box) is simple. "Safety is not negotiable. Our customers rightly tell us that safety is ultimate and we must meet their needs."

With 10-15 site visits by each customer each year, plus regular visits from official inspectors and auditors, each mill is under regular scrutiny, adds managing director, Martin Connolly.

Farm based assurance is now needed to complete the assurance chain, he says. "We know farm incomes are down, but food safety can not wait for better times. We have to demonstrate to customers that we have everything in order."

Allied Mills initiative, which will affect the 1m tonnes of UK milling wheat it uses each year, will lead to a market premium and discounts for unassured produce, Mr Fillingham says. "Flexibility of delivery is very important to the grain trade, so these changes will make assured grain more attractive."

Changes to the grower schemes are unlikely in the short term, he adds. "There is no doubt that the current schemes meet the needs of customers fully. Everything has been aired and has been covered. I dont envisage any major changes for two to three years."

Independent auditing of the trade assurance scheme means merchant haulage and storage is now more acceptable, too, Mr Fillingham continues. But Allied will continue to assess compliance with its own higher standards and maintain a list of unapproved stores.

He also offers reassurance on imports. "Overseas suppliers are approved and audited regularly, to stringent standards – only three French suppliers are approved."

Samples are analysed before purchase, shipping and intake. Silos and vessels are checked before use and milling and baking trials conducted before imported grain is used.

But some countries are taking a more proactive role; Canada, for example, supplies certificates of conformance on pesticide and toxin levels, he notes. &#42

ALLIEDMILLS

&#8226 Contracts for ACCS/SQC growers only.

&#8226 Delivery preference for assured grain in first week of each month, plus once-a-week assured-only delivery days.

&#8226 100% assured grain from harvest 2000, some mills in 1999.