11 June 1999

Quality assurance five years down road

A GRAIN quality assurance scheme which meets the needs of a major breakfast cereal manufacturer has been offering Northants growers free on-farm verification for five years.

Many farmers think merchants distance growers from the end user, says Charles Jackson, managing director of grain merchant Charles Jackson & Co of Long Buckby, Northants. That is why he established the firms Quality Assurance scheme to bridge the gap in 1994.

The schemes free annual verification visit extends beyond monitoring paper records and storage to include in-field verification of the growing crop and grain samples taken at harvest as well as on delivery.

"This allows traceability right back to a field and gives confidence to the buyer," says grain trader Jo Donger.

"I was disappointed that initially there was no great acceptance of QA principles from other buyers," Mr Jackson recalls. "Did it really matter? they asked." But with large merchants now making bold statements about requiring verified grain this year the crunch will come in October and November, he says. "We will then see whether it really does matter."

Education and training is needed as well as policing if quality assurance standards are to improve at an affordable cost, he adds. While supporting the principles behind ACCS Mr Jackson finds it difficult to understand how a charge of £1000 can be justified for a three yearly inspection when a verifier is paid £60 per visit.

Among other things, his experience shows that annual inspections are needed to check on management, record and storage upgrading and to keep pace with changing buyer demands.

Local farm manager Bill Gibson of Cottesbrooke Estate, near Brixworth in Nothants, believes produce from his 900ha (2300 acres) of arable crops needs to be quality assured.

"I dont know exactly what an end buyer wants, so Im not shy about being proactive in meeting their quality requirements."

To this end his crops are verified by both schemes, with ACCS underpinning the basic standard and Charles Jacksons meeting the more demanding breakfast cereal standards, especially for full traceability.

"If a thing isnt written down it hasnt happened as far as a buyer is concerned and its in the farmers and merchants interest to monitor production," says Mr Gibson. &#42

Charles Jackson and Jo Donger with their Quality Assured Cereal scheme requirements for value added cereals. This year grain will be collected both during and after harvest by one of the firms new lorries.

Trailer plan

To ease pressures on some farms a harvest shuttle service direct from the combine is being piloted this year. That will help growers short of quality storage space and those who find the cost of upgrading stores prohibitive at current farm income levels. A sheeted 25t trailer parked in a harvest field will be taken to Long Buckby when full and replaced with an empty trailer.