4:21pm Friday 18th October 2013
By Mike Bridgen
A COMPANY is seeking more farmers to grow borage in the North of England.
With a gross margin of more than £1,100 per hectare, borage, if grown well, is potentially the most profitable spring-sown crop.
Technology Crops, an Essex-based company, is taking the lead in developing its potential following rapidly increasing demand for UK-produced borage oil.
The crop is grown for its high-value seed which is harvested, crushed and refined before being used in dietary supplements, baby foods, personal care and veterinary products – often as an alternative to evening primrose.
Technology Crops says borage offers farmers the advantage of growing for a specific market on secure, multi-year, minimum-price contracts and has significant agronomic and environmental advantages.
The crop requires little fertiliser or agrochemical inputs; is unpalatable to rabbits or pigeons; is very beefriendly; can often be grown where the soil is too wet for oilseed rape; provides an opportunity to control grass weeds, particularly resistant black-grass; and provides an ideal, slug-free min-til entry into wheat.
Borage has been grown in the UK for at least ten years, but never on a large scale and production has been rather hit-and-miss.
Nigel Padbury, of Technology Crops, says that both production and demand is now much more professional.
“Worldwide demand for integrated supply chain partnerships to provide high-quality oils that meet the needs of manufacturers of premium products and foodstuffs is increasing,” he said.
“We have a well-established network of partnerships with global oil users, not just traders, meaning that we do not produce crops speculatively and can offer growers long-term contracts which offer real security at a time of extreme volatility in prices for conventional agricultural crops.
We also provide an excellent fixed minimum price, which enables producers to budget accurately.”
The company specialises in the production, processing and delivery of speciality crops.
As part of its long-term commitment to growers, it is developing regional groups to share knowledge and facilities to help them reduce production costs and maximise profitability.
“There's real and rapidly-growing demand for borage oil produced from UK-grown crops because of its high quality,” said Mr Padbury. “Technology Crops has been contracting borage in the UK since 2004 and is now looking for more farmers to grow it in 2014.
“We believe that the crop will appeal to established, profitable farmers – either forward-looking familyowned businesses or large farming enterprises – who appreciate the benefits of having contracted outlets for at least some of the crops they produce.
“Most existing borage contracts are for 20 to 40 hectares and a typical crop yielding 0.415 t/ha at 3,200/t would generate a gross margin of £1,107.50/ha, compared with £885 for spring oats, £835 for peas and £810 for malting barley.”
Borage seed is similar in size to wheat and can be drilled into a compaction- free seedbed at 25kg/ha from March until the end of May, once the soil temperature is above 10°C.
Offering consistent performance across a range of soil types, borage has a low requirement for nitrogen fertiliser, up to 75kg/ha.
The crop's rapid growth from sowing to harvest – about 100 days – means it out-competes most weeds and requires little in the way of herbicides.
To achieve maximum yields it must be swathed for seven to ten days and harvested by a combine fitted with a pick-up header.
At around 400kg/ha, yields are around ten per cent those of winter wheat, but the cleaned crop is worth a minimum £3,000 per tonne, though careful storage and management is required to maximise its oil content and value.
Interested farmers can contact Technology Crops Ltd, Gowers Farm, Tumblers Green, Braintree, Essex, on 01376 333888 or by visiting www.techcrops.com
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