Film-maker farmers create red wheat ‘crop-umentary’

Farmers are turning film-makers to create a behind-the-scenes “crop-umentary” highlighting an unusual wheat variety until recently not grown in Britain.

Red wheat growers across the country are being asked to video the first harvest of the crop since a landmark decision by bread-making giant Rank Hovis last year to start using only British flour.

Harvest footage filmed by farmers – including action shots taken from combines and tractor as crops are brought in from the fields – would be distributed to news websites and other forms of online media, said the PR firm behind the idea.

Until now, Rank Hovis has imported about 20% of its annual red wheat requirement from North America and Australia. But the move to British red wheat is expected to take its annual domestic requirement to about 150,000t within a couple of years.

At about 4t/ha, red wheat yields are far lower than other varieties. But farmers have been lured into growing the spring crop by contracts promising £300/t, contributing to a competitive gross margin.

Midlands farmer Stephen Adkins, who grew 28ha (70 acres) of red wheat at Greatworth Hall, near Banbury, said he had never made a film before but had been keeping a camera in the tractor cab.

“It is a fiddle having to make a video at harvest but we’re happy to do it. I think it’s a good idea – anything that promotes British food and farming has to be good for growers and the industry.”

Sarah Playfair, whose father John grew 25ha (62 acres) at Longniddry, East Lothian, said: “Harvest is an exciting and nerve-wracking time of year for those involved and it is a nice idea to attempt to share the intensity of the season with the British public.”

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Some growers have reported problems with mildew and lodging. Others have reported ergot problems, leaving them wondering whether cleaning will make the crop saleable.

One farmer, who asked not to be named, said: “Although it looked a picture in the field, and it seemed to yield very well, the grain is full of ergot. If I am unable to get the ergot cleaned out of the crop, I have a useless commodity on my hands.”

Hard to thrash but worth it

Red wheat grower Neil Armstrong had a mixed experience growing the crop – but says he will grow it again next year if contracts are available.

“I’ll not go on a world cruise on the back of it but it won’t bankrupt me either,” said the Northumberland farmer, during a break this week from harvesting 30ha of red wheat near Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Mr Armstrong drilled his crop on 6 March. The first field yielded 3.8t/ha (1.5t/acre) at 20-21% moisture. Protein content measured 16.8% with a Hagberg Falling Number varying from 380 to 360.

“The sample isn’t the prettiest, it’s been difficult to thrash and there are some whole heads in the tank. We’ve got the concave on the combine as tight as it will go but yields are increasing with the better land.”

Mr Armstrong said the crop hadn’t come to harvest as quickly as he would have expected. He applied pre-harvest glyphosate but the crop would have benefited from earlier drilling and a higher seed rate.

“It works because of the contract. The top-line price of £300/t tempts growers and financially it stacks up. I’m hoping to average 4t/ha once it’s all in. We’re quite happy with it and if Rank Hovis come to the party next year, we’ll grow it again.”

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