Decision No.2

What do we do with the wheat?

Stage One – Now Closed

 

What will we have?

Peter: At harvest time we will have wheat that will be collected in a combine harvester and transported by tractor and trailer to the store on the farm. Once cool and dry the grain can be safely stored for a considerable time – in excess of a year. However my store is not certified for long term storage so I need to move the grain by the end of September 2016 either to another store that is certified for long term storage or sell and load it on a merchants trucks. Trucks carry about 29 tons in a full load, (we have estimated a yield of around 85 tons but its not easy to estimate yield, especially with the reduced nitrogen rate we now have) so hopefully the wheat will fit on 3 trucks otherwise, if there is only a bit left in the shed, we will be charged extra by the haulier for a part load.

The wheat is JB Diego, a variety classed by HGCA as a Feed Wheat (meaning it is a hard wheat whose primary purpose is to be used to feed animals – although, for those interested in baking it can have a HFN (Hagberg Falling Number) of 298 – values in excess of 250 are required for bread making. The quality of the wheat will change the price we can get for it, which is almost impossible to indicate until much near harvest.

The wheat will be tested for a number of quality issues but the primary ones are moisture content and specific weight. If these are outside contracted parameters then penalties will be imposed by the merchant – and in extreme cases the load can be rejected by the merchant. We can arrange for testing by a merchant of the harvested wheat before sale to ensure that everything is as it should be before sending the wheat off the farm.

A Note about the straw:

After the wheat has been combined we will be left with the Straw. There will be a separate decision as to what to do with the straw coming soon.

July 22 2016 12:00:00
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 The current options that Peter usually considers and has done previously:

Futures

Peter: We can sell the wheat on the futures market, this means that we sell a promise of wheat. Its a contract that says we will deliver x amount of wheat on x date at a particular fixed price (which is set by the market). Essentially selling on the futures market is gambling – we would be betting that the price is higher at the time of sale than it will be at harvest or the contracted delivery date – so essentially we would only sell forward if we thought the price will fall. If we think the price will rise we hold the grain until the market climbs and sell at the top of the market. There are a few tools out there that let us hedge our bets allowing us to sell now and take advantage of any increase in price – but these tools come at a cost!

And don’t forget that there are a number of very wealthy and very experience organisations out there – like Goldman Sachs – who are happy to take your bet because they think they will win! The only times I’ve sold forward was on a market that had been falling steadily for a long time and didn’t look as if it was going to stop falling. That did work out ok for me but, at this time, the market has already fallen to historic lows (in real terms) and I can’t see that it can fall by a significant amount now. Or at least I hope not! So will the market rise? My crystal ball is pretty opaque at the moment. I very much hope so but I think the most likely situation is for the market to continue bumping along the bottom.

Wikipedia on Future’s Exchanges  Click here for document on speculation in the global food market (its a long and interesting document but you can sift through for clear explanations of how Future’s work) 

Grain Trader

We can sell the wheat at the time of harvest. In the past Peter has sold to Openfield (a farmers cooperative) and Frontier (owned by Cargill one of the ‘big four’ global grain traders).

Peter: I try to keep my selling simple and when I think the price is as good as its going to get, and also considering the need to get money back into my bank account, I call some merchants and sell my wheat taking the price at that time, called the ‘spot price’. Selling is always difficult and nobody (or at least nobody who’s honest) gets it right every time. Sometimes it works out good; sometimes you wish you had sold sooner or later. I always try to console myself with the words of billionaire George Soros “I don’t know how I became so wealthy; according to my critics I buy to dear and sell too cheap”

Learn more about Openfield

Learn more about Frontier

The legalities / Certifications:

Peter: When the grain is sold each truck load goes with a passport – a document that identifies the source of the wheat, its condition and that it comes from a farm that is Red Tractor assured. The assurance comes after a visit from an inspector who checks for a whole raft of criteria to ensure that the farmer is behaving responsibly and that the wheat will be safe and fit for sale. It is an onerous process and one that I don’t enjoy. I’m told that assuring my wheat gives me access to better markets and better prices – I can accept the access argument but the price?! Its never been lower in real terms.

Click here to learn more about Red Tractor

Exploring Other Possibilities of what could happen to the Wheat?

Peter: Selling into the feed wheat market we will have no say in the final destination of our wheat. It is a globally traded generic product that could go to a local livestock farmer; or go for bio-fuel production; or go for starch manufacture; or be exported.

For example it may well go for export to Spain or Holland via Lingrain (a subsiduary of Openfield) at Boston Docks, Lincolnshire.

A more experimental approach, what would it require?

There may be alternative, different or imaginative uses for the wheat. Please allow yourself a bit of time to dream up what these might be… at the same time please give a sense of the practicalities and scale of any ideas you have. It could be for instance to sell direct to a user or consumer in some way, maybe local milling and flour, wheat beer, craft objects or as an artwork on the art market.

This decision process.

This will be at least a two stage process. Peter will be able to  make a visual assessment of the crop in June but it will only be a guess until the combine harvester gets into the field.

We have not fixed any future dates for the stages in this particular decision process. We are keen that this first stage is an open wide-ranging discussion of possibilities and options which runs for as long as needed. We will inform you of any next stages as they come up.

Deadlines:

  • Peter estimates the actual harvest-time will be around mid August.

  • The latest date for decision to be finalised is 1 August.

  •  The wheat needs to be off farm by the end of September

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  • This is a space to share your thoughts, ideas and questions whatever your levels of knowledge and experience drawing on your own feelings and contemplative insight as well as rational thought.

The Collective Responses

Abby Schlageter

Thanks for this great and very clear overview. I feel like keeping it somewhat simple definitely resonates with me. The other thing that really stuck with me from the markets day was something I think Peter and potentially the Organic Grain co-op guy mentioned – that the farmer gets great pleasure from seeing what they have grown provide value to the people they sell it to. Peter, am I remembering that correctly? and how important is that to you? can you tell us any stories/anecdotes you remember when you felt pride/joy about what you had grown?

2016-05-23 22:35:03

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Peter Lundgren, The Farmer

Hi Aby
Being able to take pride in what I produce, and the way I produce it, is very important to me - it gives purpose to my being a farmer.
The problem is that its not easy to take pride in producing a generic commodity like feed wheat that disappears off the farm into the anonymous global feed market. And when the price I receive for the wheat indicates that no-one else values it either it makes taking pride in my produce even harder.
Very different when I had the outdoor pigs and I not only reared the pigs but also I did the butchering and sausage making myself; and I sold my produce direct to the customer. Having that personal relationship with the customer who (hopefully) valued my produce gave me real pride in my produce.
Maybe this is something that is missing in modern farming. As farmers are forced to specialise, and the farmer and consumer are forced further and further apart by the food chain, there's less opportunity for farmers to take pride in their produce.
I'd like to think that farmers are compensating by taking pride in delivering environmental and social benefits. Some do but sadly I think they are in the minority.........

2016-06-19 12:04:11

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Jon Orlek

Thanks for a comprehensive and open summary of options. On the London trip I think some members mentioned that they had personal uses in mind for the wheat, like using it to make their own bread. I realise that the amount of wheat that might be used/consumed by the collective is tiny in comparison to the harvest, but would it be worth discussing what individuals might want to use the wheat for and decide how much (however tiny the amount) to keep for the Field of Wheat collective?

This might also be a way in to explore alternative possibilities for more of the wheat if this is desirable?

2016-06-10 13:07:31

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Carol Farrow

Peter,
I too like the idea of keeping things simple. I'm also drawn politically to the notion of selling to a co-operative rather than one of the biggest grain merchants in the world!
As a bread maker, I'd love for us to find a way of retaining some wheat for bread flour and Collective use. To this end I'm contacting a couple of local flour mills to see if I can generate any interest in milling a few bags for us.
Im not sure if it's come up yet (it may have and I've forgotten or missed it!) but can you tell me if it would be possible to harvest the no nitrogen wheat strip separately?

2016-07-12 14:50:27

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Peter Allen-Williams

Hi Peter,

In the initial description for this decision, it said that you would be able to make a better estimate of the likely yield by June. I may have missed it, but the only reference I can find to probable yield is about 85 tonnes, which I think was the figure we started with back last October and equates to just under 3 lorry loads. Are you still thinking that is the likely figure?

2016-07-13 08:02:05

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Peter Lundgren, The Farmer

Peter
These seemingly endless grey days will have had an effect on the potential yield but I'm still hopeful that we will hit our estimated yield.

2016-07-18 09:04:14

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Carol Farrow

Hello Everyone
I have spent a few hours this week talking to flour millers local to Peter's farm, exploring the possibility of having some our wheat milled for our own use and am eager to tell you my findings! None of what follows assumes any decisions we'll take but it gives us an interesting option.
It was an exciting and fascinating journey, discovering things I didn't know about the milling of wheat and because we have a generous offer from Heckington Windmill (between the farm and Boston), where Jim Bailey the Miller, would happily mill up to a few hundred kilos of wheat for us, for free, "for the love of milling"... if, yes, if, our wheat is of milling quality. Milling quality Jim told me, means less than 14% moisture content and more than 10% protein in our harvested wheat for bread flour. More moisture and the wheat won't mill well and less protein it won't be strong enough for bread but could be OK for other cooking purposes.
Jim reckons that with all the rain we've had the moisture content could be a challenge. What do you think Peter? Jim is buying in some more of last year's wheat from his local farmer, just in case. Incidentally, Heckington wouldn't buy our wheat because they only buy from farms within sight of the mill. That quantifies 'local' rather nicely I thought. They also don't buy organic at present so would have no problem milling our wheat on that score. Jim also told me that he needs a wind speed of at least 15mph for milling and so, naturally, can't guarantee to mill on a particular day.
I called Heckington Mill (do look up their website), which is run on Lottery funding as a Trust with lots of volunteers, after discovering that Lincoln's own Ellis Mill, run by volunteers for Lincs County Council Heritage Services, has a broken sail at present and likely to be out of service for some months whilst they seek funding for repairs. Ellis Mill is one surviving windmill of several once standing in Mill Road. Most windmills went out if business with the advent of steam powered mills during the Industrial Revolution. Flour mills tended to be windmills on the eastern side of England with its open and windy landscapes and water driven in the west where fast running rivers are more prevalent.
So, to conclude, we have ourselves a Miller if our wheat is OK for milling and we decide we want a hundred or even a few hundred kilos of flour. We'll just need to get the wheat to Jim in 25kg sacks which we'll get back containing flour. If we decide to go ahead we'll need to arrange logistics. I'll investigate flour bags, including 1kg ones. A graphics designer friend hearing the above story, has offered to print labels for us!

2016-07-14 17:55:28

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Peter Lundgren, The Farmer

Hi Carol
Thanks for putting together all this information on local millers.
I think there is a good chance that the wheat will meet Jim's minimum specification of 14% moisture and 10% protein. I'm not an expert baker but I've used my own feed wheat before for breadmaking and it works fine if the protein is a bit below the 10%. I think the higher protein specifications are needed to accommodate the requirements of the industrial breadmaking process - and quite honestly I'd rather not eat that stuff! Years ago I used to grow wheat under contract for Warburtons and struggled to meet the high specification demanded by the company or incur financial penalties. And then I made the mistake of buying one of their loaves and wondered just what I was killing myself for.....
Harvesting the wheat from the strip that received no nitrogen will be impractical with a modern combine but I guess if there are enough volunteers it might be possible to harvest it by hand - but then are we missing the point about this being generic conventionally grown feed wheat from a generic Lincolnshire field?

2016-07-18 09:00:09

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MARK

Hi - Keep it simple - sell to cooperative

2016-07-15 07:16:47

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Maz

As a "snapshot" of what modern day farming entails and the difficult decisions facing the farmer this has all been an "eye opening" and compelling exercise for the unitiated. Although this particular one off sale will not make or break Peter as a viable farmer (I least I hope not) and is, in a sense , symbolic, nevertheless I feel it is important to treat this decision as one which, if implemented long term, will keep our dedicated and conscientious farmer in business. Consider the alternative - a sale of his farm maybe to a larger corporation or landowner who may not feel such a close affinity to the land as "our farmer" with greater environmental consequences.

I realise too that there is a concern regarding animal feed , as some would argue that the increasing demand for meat from parts of the word where traditionally demand was much smaller, or non- existent, has added to already excessive meat consumption in "the western world" and is having a serious environmental impact - so supplying this foodstuff may not be the best option. So I would defer to Peter's judgment on this bearing in mind the above comments- it may be a case of "the lesser of two evils" If a quantity can be retained for bread making or some other more imaginative project then that would be good but how much of our crop could be absorbed in this way and would the financial outcome be comparable?. I suspect this end use would only absorb a small proportion - although I stand to be corrected on this point. Those of us who have eaten "artisan" bread know there is a world of difference in the taste but as it is on average three times the price of a supermarket loaf , considerably narrowing down the consumer base ....and that opens another discussion.

I would welcome other points of view on all of this - it has been by far the most tricky thing to get my head round so far in the course of this fascinating project.

2016-07-19 14:51:02

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Daniel Kindred

I am happy with selling to either Frontier or Openfield, or a local merchant.

Despite not being classed officially as a Group 1 or Group 2 milling wheat JB Diego is sometimes used by millers in a blend with other varieties ... and farmers can sometimes receive a small premium for JB Diego over common feed wheats (~£2/t), though this is unlikely this year due to large acreage of new Group 1 varieties grown this year.

To meet bread making specifications commercially the grain protein content normally needs to be 13% or higher. Achieving 10% protein for milling small quantities as suggested by Carol should be OK (JB Diego typically averages ~11% protein), though the reduced N fertiliser rates we used compared to Peter's normal will mean that protein content will be lower than it would otherwise have been. If it is less than 10% this will indicate that we under-fertilised the crop, both for yield and protein. I would expect the area that received no fertiliser to be considerably lower protein, thus not suitable for making good loaves of bread.

2016-07-19 15:51:03

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Shelley Castle

All really interesting and illuminating stuff, our family have found it difficult to work out something simple and I agree that it needs to be quite simple. The co-operatives sound the best and most straight forward in line with all the comments and the needs of the farm. But I feel a pang about not making something a little more political from this, but don't know where to take that. I wondered about just keeping some to lay gently and carefully outside a pesticide company, or the corn exchange, or the department of agriculture ( Dear Andrea!) to highlight the issues that have been made clear though all our discussion, around pesticides, nitrogens, farmers livelihoods and Peter's passion. With the quite clear dwindling of farmland birds and other animals, the crash in insects which has grave implications and a voracious stampede onto the land (and our bodies) by the big chemical companies it seems like a duty to do something symbolic to me. Or perhaps this is something we might consider doing later on, perhaps at the end? I just feel that this is a pioneering project with an interesting group of people and a small bit of the earth at it's heart and perhaps we might make something of that as another outcome from this part of the process? Peter how would you feel about a small 'gesture' like this to somehow share the story a bit? Or maybe it really is something to do with the straw rather than the wheat, although somehow the fact that it would be using the main 'stuff' of the project feels more relevant.

2016-07-20 08:30:08

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Emily Wilczek

Is it possible to cut-out the middle person and sell directly to someone who would require large quantities of wheat? Reading about Peter's pride in raising pigs, it seems that a direct engagement with the consumer is a positive thing for the farmer. I like the idea of a small quantity being milled locally, but this will presumably be a tiny fraction of the overall yield. With the remaining quantity, rather than go to Openfield or Frontier, which represent straightforward solutions but with an unknown final destination, could it be sold direct for instance to someone more local seeking feed wheat? Could this be Uber, or Airbnb for farmers?!

2016-07-20 18:20:33

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