31 May 1996

On the road to full cereal traceability

CEREAL buyers are on the verge of demanding detailed crop agronomy and storage records from farmers before they buy.

Malting barley and milling wheat growers will be the first to be affected, delegates at a LEAF training seminar held at Long Ashton, near Bristol, heard last week.

Mike Adams, managing director of Hants-based grain merchant Usbornes, believed the process had been accelerated by "recent events in the livestock sector".

"Things have since moved at an amazing pace," he said. "Immedi-ately we saw the headlines, supermarkets demanded to know that every lorry which was carrying wheat into flour mills would have had no contact with infected material."

Other buyers were bound to follow, he believed. Additional concerns were also being addressed, he added.

Toxins produced by moulds had always been present in some grain lots, but their presence would soon be detectable. One group, the ochratoxins, were carcinogens, said Mr Adams. "EC legislation is coming. If we dont act and determine our own quality standards they will be imposed."

Millers were pushing for other guarantees, including pesticide residues. Although the yellow passport scheme was widely accepted as quality assurance, it needed to be audited. "Buyers need to know that growers are taking it seriously."

Other areas were also under pressure, he explained. The Japanese, who took about a third of UK malt exports last season demanded very high standards. "The UK barley industry must provide those assurances."

Companies wanted continuity of production, he suggested. "Brewers are very, very aware of who consistently produces the quality of malting barley they need. Increasingly, they are offering contracts to merchants and growers with a track record. Thats the start of traceability and quality assurance."

It was up to growers to establish the management procedures and record keeping such tracking demanded, he said. "The grower, in the end, has total control. He takes advice and makes decisions."

New technology, including satellites, would help, he maintained. It would enable growers to fine tune inputs, and allow them to harvest and store crops of similar quality. But the industry still had to grasp the basics. Many growers still had trouble storing by variety, he said.

Food codes were being ignored. "Perhaps 25-30% of grain which we collect at this time of year has some sort of infestation present. Dont store grain and forget it – look after it until it has left the farm." &#42

&#8226 Malting and milling crops first.

&#8226 Mould toxins and pesticide residues among main concerns.

&#8226 Growers must manage well, record and check – auditing is imminent.

Growers are responsible for produce until it leaves their farm. Use reliable hauliers and check trailers before loading, says Mr Adams.