Mildred, Mercia and Dorothy can all be found residing at the recently completed warehouse facilities at Park Farm Barn in Appledore, Kent. While they may sound like the cast of a colourful children’s television show they are in fact the names of the three high-tech, specialist mobile seed processing units which operate across the South East of England for Anglia Grain Services.

Established in 1986 by brothers Steve and Dick Warner, Anglia Grain Services expanded very quickly within the counties of Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire dealing direct with farmers and for agents and farmer owned buying groups.

The firm’s expansion was also accelerated through its acquisition of various other farm saved seed processing companies. In 2005, after taking over Suffolk-based TGS Seeds, Anglia Grain Services gained an extensive Kent and Sussex customer base and proceeded to set up the firm’s first rented depot in Hamstreet, Kent. In need of a more permanent site, in 2013 managing director Steve Warner purchased Park Farm Barn in Appledore which remains the South East depot for Anglia Grain Services.

Processing all combinable crops, Anglia Grain Services is the country’s largest processor of farm saved seed, with a fleet of 28 mobile units covering the main cereal growing regions from its head office in Nayland, Suffolk, its site in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and its depot in Norwich, Norfolk. Finally, three mobile units are based at the Appledore site to service around 500 active customers across Kent, Sussex, Surrey and East Hampshire.

As word has spread through the region about the company’s flexible approach, levels of customer service and bespoke machinery which produces high quality farm saved seed, Anglia Grain has already found the need to expand the Appledore site.

After much investment, July 2018 will see the finishing touches being added to a new steel-frame building which will house the depot’s three mobile seed processing units, as well as an office, meeting room, rest area for operatives, kitchen facilities, toilets and showers. The new build will also be used to process oilseed rape seed and has freed up the other buildings on site for more storage and workshop space.

Looking forward to the continued growth of the company, the building has been constructed large enough to accommodate expansion with plenty of room for more mobile farm saved seed processing units to operate from Appledore if necessary.

Running the site from the new office will be Anglia Grain’s regional manager for the South East, Matt Pickard, who joined the firm in 2017. Before working at Anglia Grain Matt studied agriculture at Writtle College, completed two years’ maize and oilseed rape trials in Suffolk and worked for six harvests on a large arable farm in Deal. Anglia Grain’s regional business manager, Rob Barrie, who used to be one of the Kent-based operatives for TGS Seeds, will also work from the Appledore site occasionally.

At this time of year, Matt is busy meeting customers to ascertain their farm saved seed requirements. However, during the peak seed seasons, Matt will be in charge of taking orders, organising convenient dates with customers, arranging all the mobile unit logistics and confirming the varieties, approximate tonnages, required seed treatments, bags and farm location the day before the job.

Benefits of farm saved seed

A wet Autumn 2017 and Spring 2018 brought with it delayed drilling and with a lot of ground still untouched. Anglia Grain customers going down the farm saved seed route have been able to choose exactly when and how much seed is processed ready for drilling.

“Farm saving seed can be a great option for some farmers because they are in control of delivery of the seed,” said Matt Pickard. “We have the flexibility and capacity to get to most farmers exactly when they want us. We have farmers who will have us in to do one trailer load and then when that is drilled we will go and do another. It is all about flexibility, and with the company’s 28 units we have the option to send in a mobile from another area to cater for everyone.”

The quality of farm saved seed can vary hugely when drilling straight from the shed, and over the years this has led to many believing that it is an inferior option. However, as well as increased control over the timing of delivery, having the seed cleaned and treated by a professional, reputable processor such as Anglia Grain Services can ensure that only the very best seed is going into the ground.

“Farmers are in control of what is growing in the field, how they harvest and store the crop and the timing of getting it drill ready,” said Rob. “They can choose exactly which seed treatments we apply and with our mobile units we can ensure that chemical is only applied to the boldest, uniform seeds which can lead to a more efficient way of establishing your crop.”

Anglia Grain Services’ mobile processing units work directly on the farm at the convenience of the farmer. Utilising the same technology as that of a fixed operation, the mobile units are beneficial in that they can clean the seed to suit the farmer’s own specification, rejecting up to 40% if necessary, ensuring that only the most superior seeds end up in the bag.

“With our mobile units you are always getting the best sample possible out of the crop,” said Rob. “There’s also no waste because what we reject from the machine the farmer can put back into his commercial store for resale.”

Farmers can also profit from the financial benefits of farm saved seed. Cash flow is improved; it provides an opportunity to add value to the existing crop; and seed costs are lower even when taking variety royalty payments into account.

Vital tests

With its own in-house and state of the art laboratory at its head office in Nayland, Suffolk, Anglia Grain Services is able to quickly test seed during the peak seasons.

“We can take samples from the farm, send them to the lab and put them on germination or disease tests straight away,” said Matt. “In a tight harvest that means farmers can get results back and make decisions without delays.”

Whether there has been a wet harvest and grain has been dried, if there were noticeable disease issues with the crop, or just for peace of mind, testing can help to inform if a crop is suitable for farm saved seed. As well as full and rapid germination tests, Stem Nematode and Ascochyta testing on pulses, disease, contamination and thousand grain weight tests can also be offered.

“There have been numerous issues with oilseed rape erucic acid levels exceeding 5% and that is causing problems for the crushers,” said Rob. “As an industry we are trying to make farmers aware of the issues and are helping to get the erucic acid levels under control. If there is any level of it showing, we wouldn’t recommend that they use the oilseed rape for farm saved seed.”

Best machinery in the business

Following its own unique design, Anglia Grain Services build two mobile seed processing units per year at its workshops in Suffolk. The firm’s in-house team of engineers and mechanics ensure that all machines follow a strict maintenance schedule, being stripped, cleaned down, greased and serviced in the quieter periods.

“The mobile units are all built to our own specifications and we know the machines inside and out,” said Rob. “We have our own fitters and engineers on-hand for any technical support and if there was an issue which couldn’t be resolved on farm we will have spare mobiles which can be sent out to make sure the job still gets done. Having said that, because each unit undergoes regular servicing, breakdowns during the peak periods are very rare.”

Since 2006 all the mobiles have been named in alphabetical order after old varieties of wheat and this year’s units will be called Rialto and Scout.

As well as offering industry-leading machinery, each mobile unit goes out with a skilled operator and two casual staff. Based from Appledore, operators Robert and Paul have over 60 years’ experience between them.

“Robert has been processing seed since 1986 and Paul started with TGS Seeds in 1998 having cleaned seed in a certified plant for 10 years before that,” said Matt. “They are very well respected in the area and have a good reputation. Farmers will often ask if Robert is coming with Mercia or if Paul is coming with Mildred.”

Fitted with individual generators, all of the mobiles are self-sufficient and having installed a specialised system to hold the bags in place while they are being filled, all the farm needs to provide is the grain, a forklift and driver to move the full bags, and a trailer for the screenings.

Even though the larger mobile seed processing units are capable of processing in excess of 100 tonnes of wheat seed per day, working at 12 to 14 tonnes per hour depending on grain sample, Anglia Grain work with customers of all sizes, will look at each order on its own merit and are able to process as little as one tonne on farm.

While the overall design pattern has remained the same for the past 15 years, Anglia Grain is always incorporating the latest technology into its mobile units to create a fleet which is second to none and helps to produce the very best standards of farm saved seed.

Cleaning the seed

After being processed through a de-awner, grain is elevated into a pre-cleaner which aspirates and screens the grain before it is transferred to a full table gravity separator which is one of the key elements in Anglia Grain being able to deliver the best possible seed sample to its farmers.

“As well as training our operators to concentrate on what is going into the bag and not how quickly they can get the job done, we are also great believers in the gravity table separators,” said Rob. “They remove the small, low weight seeds to provide us with a large, uniform bold seed sample and that directly impacts on seed rate accuracy and better crop establishment.”

“There is a difference between the gravity table and a gravity selector, a small piece of equipment which cannot do the same job, with the table a crucial part of our operation and paramount to guaranteeing the best quality service,” said Matt. “Anglia Grain Services’ mobiles are set up with the best available technology and we continue to invest in our machinery. The full gravity table separator it is key to producing high quality samples.”

Ensuring that seed is thoroughly cleaned is crucial for Anglia Grain’s organic growers who rely on the full table gravity separation process to maximise the seeds germination and vigour potential.

“By only selecting the biggest seeds you will have more vigour and crops should be able to grow away quicker and establish stronger root systems,” said Matt.

These claims are backed up by research carried out by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and also Anglia Grain’s own oilseed rape trials, where large and small seeds were divided and planted on the same day with results showing that after 10 to 14 days there was a significant difference in the rooting, with the larger seeds also producing thicker stems and a larger leaf area.

The full table gravity separator also removes sprouted, dead and low germination seeds.

“In difficult autumns like last year, the gravity separator is very useful,” said Matt. “In West Sussex for example, we were seeing quite a few problems with Skyfall in relation to germination. When germination starts and the specific weight drops we can sort through that. After using the table to clean the seed thoroughly, we were able to increase the average level of germination.”

After this process, any screenings from the pre-cleaner and the gravity table are conveyed back and can be kept by the farmer for resale, with the good cleaned grain being elevated into a vanguard batch treater.

“Across the entire process we use a belt and bucket elevator system to transfer the crop instead of augers,” said Matt. “This minimises the amount of damage to the seed as augers can cause a lot of split grains which leads to affected germination, especially with beans and peas.”

Complete chemical coverage

Anglia Grain has a number of BASIS qualified team members who are able to advise on which seed treatment products would be most suitable for the farm’s requirements.

The vanguard batch treater is also a key part of the technology built into Anglia Grain’s bespoke mobile seed processing units. Unlike a continuous flow system which meters grain and relies upon applying an approximate amount of chemical, the batch treatment system will accurately weigh 50kg of seed allowing the metering pumps to measure out the exact amount of chemical required per batch.

“The uniform seed sample which has come off the gravity separator is then dropped into a mixing chamber and chemical is evenly spread over that seed,” said Rob. “Bayer fully supports these treaters because they believe it is the most accurate way of dressing seeds, both in terms of the chemical application rates and the evenness of coverage achieved.”

The seed treatments range from single purpose treatments, including Beret Gold, these control seed-borne and soil-borne diseases like Fusarium, Bunt, Leaf Stripe and damping off diseases, which the seedling will get in the early stages, to insecticide dressings, such as Redigo Deter for BYDV control or Austral Plus and Signal, which provide a zonal protection and will protect the seedling from Wireworm or Wheat Bulb Fly in the soil. Latitude is the only registered seed treatment to protect against the take-all virus in Wheat and Barley.

While the industry is losing seed treatments quicker than manufacturers are able to get new ones registered, accurate coverage with a batch treater is key, as is producing a bold seed sample and taking advantage of growth promoters.

“On oilseed rape we have lost all the insecticide treatments and only have the fungicide dressings available,” said Rob. “Hy-Pro Duet can be used with a growth promoter called Radiate which is a zinc acetate and encourages the plant to put down a healthier rooting system.”

Anglia Grain also supply various growth promoters which are based on phosphate dressings with levels of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) within them as well as amino acids which are readily available for the seed to take up.

“Manganese dressings are also becoming more popular,” said Rob. “If you know you have a deficiency issue, a manganese seed treatment should be the first step because it is a very efficient way of getting it into the plant in the early stages.”

For those who have turned to late drilling, whether to fight off blackgrass or because of weather conditions, growth promoters are also useful for giving crops a better growing advantage.

Growth promoters

“More and more farmers are taking up the growth promoters and with the late Spring drilling they were very popular this season,” said Matt. “A lot of farmers have to see how it works in their own field and we are getting quite a few people who are testing a tonne or so. An independent trial on winter barley treated with Radiate showed nothing to report until the crop started to senescence, the Radiate treated plots held on for up to ten days which led to more ear fill and it came out at 0.4 tonne per hectare increased yield.”

Growers looking for the best of both can now also use Vibrance Duo, a new product from Syngenta which combines a SDHI with a single purpose, so farmers will have the benefits of the Beret Gold while also taking advantage of improved, deeper rooting.

Oilseed Rape Seed

“Most of the dressing of the farm-saved oilseed rape will be done at the Appledore site,” said Rob. “We collect it from the farmers and bring it here to be cleaned and treated. We tend to clean it twice to give uniform, bold samples and then we have a static batch treatment plant. With the new building no matter what the weather, we will be able to crack on with processing.”

As well as offering mobile seed processing, cleaning and dressing services, Anglia Grain Services is also in a position to offer high quality certified conventional, hybrid and Clearfield varieties, which can be delivered as and when required to its customers.