Lancashire farmer, Josh Rothwell (pictured), is adding value to grain on his tenanted farm, and says it’s the way he’ll make 200 acres pay, with minimal labour and investment.
When the local mill closed through which Lancashire arable farmer, Josh Rothwell, traded his grain, he had to move quickly to find an alternative means of selling his home-grown feed.
Most of the 180 acres (73ha) of cereals he grew on Pear Tree Farm were traded this way – delivered to the mill as dried, whole grain for processing and onward sale. The convenience of selling throughout the year in small batches suited the business in terms of labour and cash flow, and Josh was keen this throughput should continue. The answer he found has, in fact, brought a bigger slice of the profit back to the farm, and he even buys in and processes grain from other farms, to keep up with year-round demand.
Josh farms with his parents, Stephen and Jane, on a 220-acre (89ha) tenancy near Ormskirk. And with mostly grade II and III land, on a mixture of clay and sandstone rock, the family has often had to battle against the odds.
The Rothwells have worked hard to establish a successful vegetable business, growing leeks, spring cabbage and spring onions, across around 40 acres (16ha) of the farm, and selling much of this produce to wholesalers on the Isle of Man. However, conscious of his parents’ forthcoming retirement, and the difficulty of finding labour to step into their place, he has been keen to find a way of running the farm with a leaner team. With Emma, his wife, working full-time in dental nursing and on the farm’s accounts, Josh hopes to create a setup he can run largely on his own.
Automation for the vegetables would have been considered ideal, but had to be ruled out because of the capital outlay involved. “To automate the leek line would cost £500,000-£700,000 and we do not have the volume, with 200 acres, to justify that investment,” he says. He has therefore kept his focus on adding value to cereals, which he started in 2019 with the closure of the mill.
Beginning with a small, portable mill which ‘could not keep up with demand’, he soon upgraded to a Korte 700. Originally borrowing the machine from a neighbour, he went on to buy it second-hand. Some four years later, he upgraded to a brand new version of the same mill, purchased from Kelvin Cave Ltd, and says the investment of little over £20,000 is a tiny fraction of what would have been needed to make the vegetable business viable without his parents’ help.
Today, almost all of the farm’s cereals are stored in a shed, having been dried down to 14-15% on the premises if needed, from which point they are ready to roll. The final product is rolled and sold on an as-andwhen basis, mostly through South West Lancashire Farmers as animal feed.
A further bonus has come through some of the mill’s other former customers now buying direct from the Rothwells. With a weighbridge on the farm, the family is able to sell in bulk bags by the tonne, all of which helps retain value in the local economy and keep food miles low. Achieving a quality sample is essential in adding value and satisfying this demand, so the cereals are run over a screener – removing awns and chaff – and tempered before rolling.
The tempering process involves the use of a product called ProFlake NC – newly introduced by Kelvin Cave last year – which is applied with a known volume of water and soaks into the grain.
“ProFlake NC acts as both a surfactant and preservative, ensuring the liquid is absorbed into the grain,” explains Josh. “We did use another product, supplied by the mill when it closed, but although it acted as a preservative, it contained no surfactants, so didn’t adequately soak into the grain before it was rolled. “We found that the grain would smash rather than roll, so that’s why we switched to ProFlake, and we find the surfactants in this product make a noticeable difference,” he says.
The product is applied, together with the water, around 24-48 hours before rolling. This lifts the grain’s moisture content to 17.5-18%, and so provides a dust-free sample that has a higher feed value than dry rolled grain – thanks to ProFlake’s ingredients, which include propionic acid – and is easy to roll and far more attractive to both use and sell.
“The milling process is not very labour intensive,” adds Josh, who can leave the mill running with minimal intervention. The result is a clean and dust-free product which is perfectly rolled and pleasant to handle, and keenly sought as animal feed. Without shattering and dust, and with its elevated feed value, it is better than dry grain for ruminant digestion and health.
Samples show (left) barley straight from the combine, (centre) cleaned and treated with ProFlake NC and (right) cleaned, treated and rolled through the Korte 700.
Such has been the demand, that the farm is now processing around 1,500 tonnes of grain each year, only 400 tonnes of which are grown at home. Buying in grain to maintain the throughput and keep pace with demand, Josh says that, once he’s accounted for the cost of the ProFlake NC plus electricity, water and labour, the extra margin makes the process worthwhile.
He is also considering introducing livestock as an enterprise at Pear Tree Farm, to add further value, if the vegetables are stopped altogether.
He says: “When the mill closed, I wasn’t worried we would lose our market but I was worried that we’d lose the ability to sell in small, 10 tonne loads, and be obliged to sell in artics of 28 tonnes.” However, he has turned a necessity into a virtue and expanded the business by trading a value-added product with year-round demand – still delivered in small loads – which will keep the farm in profit.
Confident he can operate largely single-handedly, he says: “With the labour situation as it is, it’s the only way I can see of making 200 acres pay.”
Chaff and awns removed from the sample during cleaning and treatment with ProFlake NC.
JS & J Rothwell & Son
• 200 acres of cereals and vegetables in Ormskirk, Lancs
• Fourth and fifth generation of tenants work the farm
• Retirement will force loss of labour-intensive work
• Vegetables to be superseded by adding value to cereals
• Grain now processed with ProFlake NC and rolled with Korte 700
• The farm now buys in grain for processing and resale
• Livestock may be introduced to use grain and add further value