Keeping cool’s key…

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…to 26,000t grain store’s success.

PX Farms’ gleaming new grain store faced a baptism of fire in harvest 2008, having to cope with drying as much as 95% of the incoming crop. It passed with flying colours, says James Peck of PX Farms.

James Peck

“The combined capacity of the drier and wet bin means we can hold over 250t in the drying queue at any one time, or tip on the concrete pad and bucket the grain in when there’s space,” says Mr Peck. “It never caused any bottleneck in tipping or delay in harvesting – and hopefully we won’t get another year like that.”

Leased to merchant Wellgrain, the store contains not only the substantial output of the host farm’s crops but also that of 30 local growers. It has an intake rate of more than 150t/hr using on-floor tipping and a 120t/hr central overhead conveyor.

This has a “travellator” that moves forward in 1m steps to form a neat 60m-long pile, 14.5m deep at its centre and almost 7m at the edges. The store

has clearly been built for capacity and efficiency.

But of equal importance in the specification is the monitoring and cooling systems designed to combat potential insect pest infestation.

Gary Milner of Robydome checks the computerised control and monitoring set-up for the ventilation/cooling and drying systems.

With such a huge amount of grain in one heap – and the responsibility that comes with managing the output of the 30 local farms, let alone PX Farm’s own in-hand and contract farming operations – outstanding store management is imperative to maintain quality and operating throughput.

The process begins with accurate monitoring of incoming grain moisture, then drying as necessary to 15% moisture content. Each load is rigorously sampled and recorded on the intake office computer.

“While moisture content is important, we also recognise how crucial it is to get the grain cool enough to store in good condition and free from insect pests,” says Mr Peck. “That means getting the temperature down from a typical 32ºC at intake to the target store temperature of 6ºC as quickly as possible.”

The ventilation system is designed to cool the grain rapidly to less than 10C, at which point the insects will not breed; at single figures they will die.

As the 30m wide store is loaded, six rows of ventilation ducts are laid and ratchet-strapped to fixings on the floor. They start at 900mm diameter, then step down to 750mm, 600mm and finally 450mm to give the even air flow calculated by Silsoe-based independent grain storage engineer, David Bartlett.

Mr Peck emphasises the need to get the air flow right: “There is a temptation in most farm grain stores to over-engineer and over-specify,” he says. “But that risks over-drying the grain; when a 1% loss on a store this size equates to over £20,000, it pays to get the sums done and get the right air flow.”

The ventilation system operates in three zones, each with a pair of high-capacity, two-stage fans and ducting.

In the central zone, seven Robydome probes, fixed to the ducting tie-downs and incorporating three monitoring points each, check grain temperature throughout the depth of the pile and feed the results to a central computer.

Two zones down either side have 13 single-point probes each. These are suspended from the roof so they can be pushed into the grain as the store is filled but, more importantly, can be removed and safely coiled back up to the roof as the store is unloaded.

“We wanted to avoid mobile probes that involve walking across the grain or that could be left in the grain and possibly lost or damaged as the store is emptied,” explains Gary Milner of Robydome.

The large scale of the PX Farms store called for a custom design of monitoring probes but the principle can be scaled down to any on-farm store, from individual bins to small on-floor storage.

“The computerised controller for differential cooling is equally applicable to any storage situation, bringing about the same benefits in energy and automation efficiency and assuring the quality of the grain,” Mr Milner adds. “It can be incorporated into any existing system or new store build.”

Once grain starts pouring into the store, the cooling fans are run intensively to equalise the heap to a common temperature. Then a sophisticated differential cooling programme in the control system kicks in to bring the temperature down to the required levels.

The Robydome monitoring and control programme continuously tracks grain temperatures throughout the store and compares it with the outside air temperature and humidity. The fans are set to come on when ambient temperature is 2C below that of the stored grain and relative humidity is below 65; any rise above these parameters automatically switches the fans off.

Having sufficient ventilation capacity to rapidly cool grain via floor ducting for effective quality and insect pest control was given a high priority in the store’s specification.

Automatic control ensures air carrying excess moisture is not pushed through the grain – otherwise it will be wetted rather than dried and a build-up of caked fusty grain alongside the ventilation ducts will interfere with air flow and cooling performance.

“The parameters are selected to give the most efficient possible cooling whilst ensuring the optimum humidity is maintained for good storage,” says Mr Peck. “The record of fans switching on and off throughout the day and night clearly shows it would be impossible to achieve this level of accuracy and efficiency with manual operation.”

Given the volume of air being pumped into the store, it is important to think about extraction capacity. After all, as Mr Peck points out, moist air condensing on a cool roof will drip moisture back onto the grain and create a crust of damp material highly conducive to insect activity.

“You need to take out an equivalent volume of air that’s gone through the grain as quickly as it’s blown into the pile,” he emphasises. “The eight large extractor fans in the roof automatically start up with the ventilation fans – but we can also switch them on manually to keep the working environment clean and virtually dust free when filling the store and out-loading lorries.”

With bespoke administration software recording grain movements and linked to Wellgrain’s own system, growers renting space on a stored volume basis know precisely how much grain they have to sell – and do not have the responsibility of managing stored crop at a busy time of year.

“From experience, most grain storage problems occur in October and November, once the grain is believed to be safely in the store but when most farmers are too busy with field work to regularly monitor and manage the store,” Mr Peck points out. “For growers using our facility through Wellgrain, all risks and concerns are removed; they can concentrate on the new crop in the ground.”

Source: Farmers Weekly Interactive

2007 Farmers Weekly Awards…

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…why winning helped their businesses?

Young Farmer of the Year 2006 – James Peck, Scotland Farm, Cambridge says,

“It has given me confidence to focus harder on my business plan and broadened my interest to other areas such as focused environmental management to produce genuine environmental gains. The win was a great experience but not an end in itself it was a credit to the whole team who are determined to ensure that the business develops offering customers the best service.”

Agricultural merchant follows Tesco with loyalty card scheme

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East Anglian agricultural merchant Cropco has followed Tesco by copying the supermarket giant’s successful loyalty card scheme.

Any farmer buying Seed Plus seed from the merchant this season will qualify for points that can later be redeemed against a range of options, including agrochemicals or fertiliser supplied by the firm, services such as waste recycling, or even gifts, according to John Poulton, Cropco’s managing director.

“We want to give something back to growers, there will be a substantial loyalty reward,” he said.

The scheme will initially only run for seed purchases, but Cropco hopes to extend it to other parts of his business, including agchems in the future.

Full details of what rewards will be available and how much seed would need to be purchased to qualify for them have not been released as yet.

The loyalty card is part of the firm’s Seed Plus offering, which aims to provide high quality seed sourced from Daltons of Peterborough on a guaranteed delivery date.

“If we fail to meet an agreed delivery date we will cut the price of the seed by 50%,” Mr Poulton said.

Farmers Weekly Young Farmer of the Year James Peck welcomed Mr Poulton’s pledge. “It’s no good if the seed isn’t on farm in time,” he said. “We drill in blocks and don’t want to be going back for 40 acres.”

The firm will also offer variety advice to its customers through independent variety consultant Richard Fenwick.

“Seed Plus will help provide the information to make sure growers choose the correct variety for their farm,” he said.

Source: Farmers Weekly International

Farming’s entrepreneurs take control

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Entrepreneurs are people with guts, ambition and commitment, according to key speakers from The Future’s In Your Hands event.

Matthew Naylor, who grows potatoes and flowers for major retailers in south Lincolnshire, told delegates: “The difference between a businessman and an entrepreneur is all about control. Business people analyse the status quo and try and profit from it. Entrepreneurs take control of the situation and try and make things happen on their own terms.”

“I have made loads of mistakes over the years, all with my own money. Some people will try something and fail. It’s about dusting yourself down, deciding where you went wrong and trying again.”

Ian Kenny, head of agricultural policy at NatWest added: “Cash, capital and character are what the banks are looking for with start-ups but character is key. Have you got the flair, the fire and passion to make it work?”

“There is no rule book. If you have a hunch simply go and do it. It’s the only way you will learn,” said Will Chase, founder of Tyrrells Crisps.

“My advice is: be enthusiastic and passionate, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do your research, have a ten-year plan, and work hard.” – James Peck, managing director, P.X. Farms, and 2006 FW Young Farmer of the Year.

Source: Farmers Weekly Interactive

James Peck is named…

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…the Firestone Young Farmer of the Year at the Farmers Weekly Awards 2006

James, Peck, the Managing Director of P.X. Farms Ltd., has been named as the Firestone Young Farmer of the Year 2006 at an awards ceremony in London.

Why he won:

James Peck is a young man on a mission. His goal is as simple as it is ambitious: To increase his contracted farmed area to 2500ha (6175 acres) within seven years.

James Peck

Three years after launching his own farming company PX Farms, 30-year-old James is well on course to achieving his goal. He has built a business which includes contract farming over 890ha(2190 acres) for eight landowners plus contract field work for 32 customers over a further 809ha (1998 acres). That is in addition to running the home unit of Scotland Farm, Dry Drayton.

It is an expansion fuelled by his intuitive understanding of machinery management, commitment to recruiting and retaining the best people and his almost compulsive desire to cut the best deals possible.

“The right machinery, staff management, communication with customers and reliability are crucial to running a successful contracting business,” says James. So when he took over the family’s Scotland Farm, after his father decided to pursue interests outside farming, he began with a machinery sale. James is a man brimming not just with enthusiasm for machinery, but a passion to run it at maximum efficiency and minimum cost. “The sale allowed us to cut down on duplicated machinery and raise much needed capital for the new business of PX Farms,” says James.

His fleet today includes a Claas Lexion combine, Claas 55 tracklayer, Vaderstad Rapid drill and a Bateman RB25-36m sprayer

It is impressive firepower that has allowed James to expand his contract area while cutting costs and lifting yields.

Growing only first wheats with a break crop of oilseed rape has helped to improve blackgrass control and cut herbicide bills. Growing costs have been cut to £54/t for wheat and £132/t on oilseed rape, while average yields have climbed to 10.5t/ha and 3.65t/ha, respectively, supported by his use of large-scale machinery.

But any machine is only as good as the person who operates it – a fact recognised in the attention to detail James pays to staff selection and management. “I couldn’t manage without self motivated, first-class staff.”

Conservation as well as curbing costs feature in James’ farming approach. As part of the entry-level stewardship scheme, buffer strips have been installed on all headlands near water. Grass strips allow hedge cutting and ditch maintenance to be carried out on a two-year cycle which makes effective use of farm machinery and encourages biodiversity.

James is keen to support the local community by hosting school visits to Scotland Farm. And his can-do attitude has impressed Anglia TV producers, who regularly ask him to comment on farming topics.

Runner up:

Andrew Mahon, Charlton Farms, Oxfordshire – a young man with responsibilities, management acumen, and attitude that belie his 30 years.

Source: Farmers Weekly Interactive

Young entrepreneurs bullish…

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…about future of agriculture.

The younger generation that will bring about the big changes in farming is ambitious, willing to take risks and already thinking outside the box.

That was the confident message from 80 young men and women at The Future’s In Your Hands conference, held at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, on 1 May. 

The event was organised by the Red Meat Industry Forum and supported by Farmers Weekly in a bid to kick start a stronger focus on young entrepreneurs nationally.

All of the delegates were starting out or already running businesses. Two striking differences between young and older farmers was the keenness of the former to operate without subsidies and to share their good and bad experiences warts and all.

Farmers Weekly columnist and speaker, Matthew Naylor, who has a expanding flower and potato business, began farming when aged 15 and admitted that he had made lots of mistakes with his own money. “The difference between an entrepreneur and a businessman is all about control,” he said. “Business skills can be taught – it’s a science. Entrepreneurialism is an art, it’s about passion, it’s not about following the rule book. You need, confidence, courage and conviction.”

James Peck, FW’s 2006 Young Farmer of the Year, runs a successful contracting and grain storage business. He explained why his employees benefit from BUPA healthcare, a pension scheme, performance-related bonuses and 30 days holiday a year. Employees are one of your biggest assets. You have to choose the right staff and invest in them,” he said.

And Will Chase, founder of Tyrells Crisps, spoke of his long journey to profitability and urged young farmers to be their own person. Tyrells is looking for young people to join the business which in future may include producing potato vodka as well as crisps. Finding people with character is important. We are always looking for managers who will go the whole nine yards and can see the bigger picture,” he said. “If you have a good idea for a new business, think cash, capital and character. These are the three attributes the banks will be looking for when investing in start up,” he added.

Source: Farmers Weekly Interactive

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