Steeple Bumpstead
Agricultural Discussion Society

Established 1929

Newsletter December 1997

The new season starts in the second week of October when we hope that most of the members will be far enough advanced with their land work that they can take an evening off. The first meeting of the season has to be a bit special because we like to give a good impression to any potential new members. With this in mind our first speaker was Simon Blackmore from Silsoe college. Silsoe has been a research base for agricultural engineering for many years and has gone under several different names but currently it is part of Cranfield University.

Simon’s talk was titled “Precision Farming and Agricultural Mechatronics” but he concentrated on the precision farming. This is cutting edge agriculture and has been under development for a few years, but we are now seeing machines on the market that have this technology on board. The process starts with a combine harvester which will record yield and the data is then transferred to the farm computer which can convert it into a yield map. This has been made possible by the development of Global Positioning using the US military satellites. We are now seeing other machinery, sprayers, drills and fertiliser distributors with this technology on board which can vary application rates as they travel across the field.

We have got all this very clever machinery and the necessary computer programmes to convert the yield maps to a specification for inputs to different parts of the field but we do not yet know exactly how to relate them. The big question is: Do we put more fertiliser etc. on the poor yielding parts of the field to make it produce more, or do we cut down on such inputs because that area is not producing enough yield to justify the expense? This is the research that Simon is involved in and he gave us a very interesting insight into how he hopes to answer these very difficult questions.

Today only larger farms can afford machines with global positioning, but as the price of the electronics falls it will become standard on many machines. In the long term we will probably all end up using this technology in some form.

At our November meeting almost 60 members heard a talk by John Gavin who is technical manager at Cereal Partners UK. I must admit that I had not heard of this company before, but Cereal Partners are the second largest producer of breakfast cereals in the world. It is a joint company owned by Nestlé and General Mills (a large American company) producing many different products but probably best known for Shredded Wheat.. The topic of the talk was the transformation of the wheat that we produce into high quality breakfast cereals.

I cannot praise the speaker too highly, his informal manner and depth of knowledge about his company and its products kept us all engrossed. We learnt much from the talk and even more during the question time. We now understand why it is important to the end-user that we keep our wheat varieties separate and what is the difference between branded products and supermarket ‘own label’ products (not a lot). We also know why the Tesco ‘value’ products are so much cheaper but have a slightly different flavour. Cereal Partners UK have been increasing their market share steadily over recent years by developing new products and producing more supermarket ‘own label’ breakfast cereals. This growth is mainly at the expense of Kellogg’s, but being a multi-national company John regarded Cereal Partners companies in other countries just as much ‘the competition’ as Kellogg’s. He was keen that Cereal Partners UK remained more profitable than the other companies so any investment would come to Britain rather than France. This quest for efficiency has led to a 24hr 7 day week shift system and the fitters even study formula one pit-stops so that down time is minimised when the plant has to be repaired.

We have made a good start to the season which will hopefully continue on 1st December with a talk by Chris Tyler about growing tea. (Not here - In India!)

Stephen Graves (Secretary)

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