5 July 2002

Show is springboard for grain export push

By Wendy Short North-east correspondent

AN INITIATIVE which has set out to win foreign export contracts for Northumberland grain could lift ex-farm prices in the county if it is successful.

With Northumberland the featured county at this years Royal Show, farmers, processors and grain traders got together months ahead of the show to form Unique Northumberland Cereals Limited (UNCL).

The company, which has received £72,000-worth of sponsorship, organised an all-expenses paid trip for 10 important foreign grain buyers. After visiting the show to make new contacts, the prospective buyers spent two days touring Northumberland to learn more about grain production in the county.

"The county has a wonderful reputation for its livestock, but not everyone realises it produces high quality grain," said UNCL chairman Barclay Forrest.

"We wanted to make foreign and UK buyers aware that Northumberland can produce excellent soft wheats for bread and biscuit making. It can also grow good quality barley for brewing and malting. A lot of the wheat currently leaving the county is sold as animal feed but it is actually good enough to be exported as milling wheat."

One of the VIPs on the trip was Chinas biggest wheat trader.

Mr Forrest said: "At the moment, China is self-sufficient in wheat but the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has recently prevented the Chinese government from continuing to subsidise its wheat-growers. Chinese people have also started to eat more bread and biscuits, so consumption is rising.

"All this means that more imports will be needed – China could be looking for an extra 20m tonnes of group two wheats/year. That is exactly what is being produced in Northumberland so potentially it gives us a very exciting export opportunity."

Mr Forrest, a former chairman of British Cereal Exports, urged Northumbrian farmers to expand their acreage of group two wheats to meet this growing demand for export quality grain. However, he advised them to speak to local traders first to make sure they choose the most popular varieties. &#42

UNCL chairman Barclay Forrest reckins the Northumberland grain industry has already gained major benefits from the project.

TLC works wonders

A study by Newcastle University has concluded that being nice to farm animals – by patting cows before milking and giving pigs toys to play with in their pens – improves the quality of farm produce.

Farmers who give their animals a touch of TLC will reap benefits, said Sandra Edwards, of Newcastle Universitys agriculture department.

"We have found evidence in a number of species we have studied that a bit of positive interaction between farmers and animals is a very good thing on farms," she said.