A group of Borders farmers have set their store to trade beyond
the farm gate in premium products through a newly formed company.
From this to this - left to right, Colin McGregor, Louise Nixon
and John Baker Cresswell in an oilseed rape crop with Borderfields' culinary
oil and birdseed.
Borderfields was set up by producers from the east coast in North
Northumberland and the Borders. The farmers are proficient and
experienced growers of cereals and oilseeds as well as having a
total commitment to quality and full traceability of their products.
The company has just launched the second of its two products – a
cold pressed virgin rapeseed culinary oil, grown by local farmers
and marketed under the name of Olifeira, which is Latin for oil
bearing seeds. It is the only cold pressed virgin rapeseed oil
produced in the north with only three UK competitors – in
the south of England.
The oil production adds to the company’s second specialist
product, a high quality bird food, made to recipes to attract particular
species of birds without wastage.
Borderfields, set up a year ago coinciding with a business plan,
is run by a group of four farmers who share a common desire to
add value to locally produced crops. However, in total there are
a dozen farmers who have given their backing to the company.
“We were all commodity producers making variable returns
on our cereals and oilseeds and we felt it was time we had a go
at putting some value into what we grew. We decided at the outset
that we wanted to do it professionally with the right research
and funding,” said John Baker-Cresswell, who along with Colin
McGregor, Terence Pardoe and Julia Wailes-Fairbairn makes the day-to-day
decisions about the business.
“From the business plan we decided to set up the oil production
business and it has taken us from April this year to get everything
right for the marketing and packaging.
“Since 1973 we farmers in the region have been growing oil
seed rape in large quantities and it has always gone into a very
industrial process. 1.9 million tonnes traditionally has gone to
three plants which produces a homogenous oil which is used for
individual use, biofuels or oil for eating. This is refined, bleached
and de-odorised,” said Mr Baker-Cresswell.
The farmers decided that if they did things completely differently
with a cold pressing of the oil seed to produce a very fine culinary
oil with a subtle flavour and attractive deep colour, they could
market the benefits, particularly its nutritional qualities.
The oil is very low in saturated fat and contains high and balanced
levels of essential omega 3, 6 and 9, as well as being a natural
source of vitamin E.
Rapeseed oil can be heated to higher temperatures without burning
than other oils and the stability of the oil lends itself to a
variety of culinary uses including cooking and salad dressings.
They established that oilseed rape has become an important source
of edible vegetable oil in Europe, since with sunflower it is one
of the few edible oilseeds which can be grown under cool and temperate
conditions, particularly those in the UK.
Through the research and work done by focus groups funded with
help from the Rural Enterprise Scheme they set their goals, spurred
on by the 20 per cent growth in speciality culinary oils in the
last few years.
“When looking at ways to add value to our product we dismissed
the biofuels route as obviously it takes huge investment. Producing
oil could be done locally, on-farm - and we can interact with our
customers,” said Colin McGregor.
“We trialled 20 different varieties and we have arrived
at one which is right,” he added. “We found enormous
differences between the varieties and we are keeping this one secret.”
Oil production can be done in batches after the summer’s
harvest, depending on demand, at The Press House which has been
set up for the on-farm processing in converted buildings near Bamburgh
at around a quarter of the total investment costs in the project.
The oil has a shelf life of in excess of a year.
One tonne of oilseed rape produces enough oil for 600 half litre
bottles which are sold retail at £6 a bottle.
“As an oilseed producer that retail price is adding around
2,000 per cent to the commodity value of my crop,” said Mr
McGregor who grows more than 2,000 tonnes of the crop each year.
So far the venture has created two new jobs – for a press
operator as well as for a full time sales representative – Louise
“First indications are that we are going to exceed our sales
targets. The reception we are getting in specialist outlets and
delicatessen shops from the Lothians and Borders and into Cumbria
and North Yorkshire has been great,” said Mr McGregor.
John Baker-Cresswell added: “Our company ethos has been
to build it step by step. We feel that the initial sales are going
to be through speciality shops.”
Other culinary products could be added in the future, including
organic rapeseed oil, although their research showed that the demand
was for an oil with local provenance was way above that of an organically
Borderfields’ second enterprise has been grown from a business
originally operated by the Baker-Cresswell family which emanated
from John’s father Charles’ passion for wild birds.
Charles Baker-Cresswell developed several recipes to attract particular
species into the garden and now under the new label Bird Song.
As far as possible the ingredients for the collection of feeds
is grown on farms in the area and the feed is packaged in tough,
re-sealable buckets of a range of sizes which keeps them vermin-free
and avoids damp or spillage.
Wheat, oats, oilseed rape and linseed are sourced locally with
sunflowers bought from Lincolnshire. The only import to the UK
is a thistle seed called Niger, which is brought in from Ethiopia.
Further information about Borderfields’ products can be
seen on the website at www.borderfields.co.uk
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