IT WOULD be hard to send out a more positive statement of intent for farming post mid-term review than the planning application the estate has just sent to the local authority.
Many would baulk at the idea of a grain store that could end up costing as much an entire farm, but to estate manager Chris Dowse the 16,000t-capacity building is vital to ensure the future efficiency of the predominantly arable business near Market Rasen, Lincs.
Even wheat at 60/t hasn”t deterred the estate from pushing ahead with the ambitious plan, which is likely to cost at least 1m. “We are not in farming for the short term, we are looking 25, even 35, years ahead,” says Mr Dowse.
But, to a certain extent, the estate”s hand has been forced by the condition of its current storage facilities. These occupy about 12 locations, accumulated gradually as the estate expanded, and range from 2000t of on-floor storage to a 30t silo.
“Many are 35-40 years old and just can”t cope with modern farming practices and increased yields,” says Mr Dowse. “Some are literally falling down. The stores have been dictating the speed of harvest and sometimes the combines have had to stop because they couldn”t cope.
” Much of the estate”s grain is moved in articulated lorries that require more space than is available in the buildings and Mr Dowse reckons the extra cost of fuel used for hauling to so many different sites must add thousands of pounds in costs every year.
Ever more volatile commodity markets also make it essential to have sufficient capacity to avoid having to sell when prices are at their lowest, he adds. “We have to sell about 5000t at harvest to make space for the rest of the crop.
” The scheme has been in the pipeline for the past seven years, but two previous applications have been blocked by the local authority. However, the estate is keeping its fingers crossed this time. “We”ve made a lot of effort to listen to people and try to address all of their issues,” says Mr Dowse.
This has meant switching from a silo-based plan, which some people feared would be excessively visible, to more discrete on-floor storage. Extensive landscaping, which will include over 3000m of new hedges and a run-off pond that will be turned into a wildlife feature, will also limit the visual impact of the 7150sq m building.
Even so, some local residents are still not happy about the scheme with one local newspaper running a negative story based on figures that strayed some way from reality.
An increase in the amount of road traffic seems to be the main bugbear, but Mr Dowse is keen to point out that the new site will actually reduce the amount of traffic on country lanes. “By centralising storage it means there will be less traffic going into the existing stores, some of which are in the middle of villages.
” Homeowners would also benefit because there would be no more noise from the drying fans used at some of the smaller stores, he adds.
Mr Dowse has already had “constructive” meetings with parish council representatives from the two villages near the proposed store and is confident that any worries can be overcome. “I would be surprised and disappointed if we didn”t receive permission.
” If all goes to plan, he hopes the local authority will give the green light by March and construction will start as soon as possible. This may be later this summer when conditions are most favourable, ready for the 2006 harvest.
Not content with hopefully embarking on a massive building project, Mr Dowse is also planning to drill a crop later in the spring that he has never grown on the estate before. Almost 142ha (350 acres) of set-aside are earmarked for industrial linseed that will be sold on contract to grain trader Gleadell.
This decision has been made because it was found that about 100ha (250 acres) of set-aside more than last season would be required over Sir Richard Sutton”s two estates, one of which is in Berks.
Mr Dowse reckoned originally it would be better to put the set-aside in Lincs to cut the burden of increased spring drilling caused by the very wet autumn, but then decided he may as well plant the linseed to “try to make a bit extra”. Industrial oilseed rape was ruled out because it didn”t fit so well with his rotation.
A good mix of spring crops should help to spread the extra workload, with cereals going in first followed by pulses and then the linseed last of all. “It could be a crop that suits the Lincolnshire Wolds well. The price (forward contracts for harvest 2005 are about 180/t) is good at the moment and with inputs not excessive it looks like a reasonable thing to do,” says Mr Dowse. Industrial contracts tend to pay 7-10/t less than the crop”s market value.