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Long-term investment in storage at Elveden Estates

Publication Date: 
13 December 2018

A group of early career farmers and scientists recently visited the brand new potato store facilities at Elveden Farms, as part of Agri-Tech East Young Innovators Forum. Becky Dodds, events and membership manager at Agri-Tech East and Laura Bouvet, Knowledge & Innovation Facilitator at Agri-Tech East & AHDB, reflect on the key messages from the visit.

LB – Visiting Elveden Estate’s new facilities sparked conversations around long-term investment and highlighted a number of key points worth bearing in mind when thinking about potato storage in the long run. Elveden grows 40,000 tonnes of potatoes annually, some of which used to be stored in third party stores, involving additional transportation and contracting costs. In addition, the potential upcoming change in sprout suppressants has prompted the business to take action and look beyond what is currently feasible in terms of sprout suppression control. The decision to invest in new storage units and to bring storage ‘in-house’ therefore came as a result of wanting to future-proof the business. Investing in the latest monitoring technologies has been a key driver and Elveden is now in a position where it can fine-tune environmental conditions remotely and in real time, to maximise storage efficiency and keep running costs down.

BD - Listening to Andrew talk about investment recuperation terms of approximately ten years for new store technology and infrastructure, I was reminded that agriculture in particular, in meeting a demand that will always be present, can plan ahead with a view to mitigating risks from government policy, weather or price fluctuations. 

LB -Investment did not stop at the storage units themselves. The grading shed, with its wooden slatted walls for letting natural light and for air circulation demonstrate that even small improvements can make a difference. Staff are able to work in all weather conditions, in a bright and airy shed, and less money is spent on lighting the shed during the day when there is access to natural light. 

BD - I’d say that investment isn’t only financial – perhaps by installing new technologies, you have a higher rate of staff retention as the work is less intensive. Installing more efficient temperature monitoring and control systems could reduce your energy bills and environmental impact. These kinds of benefits are difficult to calculate but should certainly be taken into consideration by anyone thinking about new investments.

LB - Another question that came up during the visit was about skills. ‘Do you need to be an engineer to work in potato storage?’ asked one of the Young Innovators. Andrew argued that this needn’t be the case. The recently recruited store manager ‘does not have an engineering background but has the right attitude’ he said.

BD - I recently heard that a panel’s solution to the slow uptake of new technologies in agriculture is to wait for the next generation to take over the farm – but I think Elveden is a shining example of why that attitude is wrong. Perhaps it is easier for each of us to think, someone else can make that investment. Someone else will be in a better position in the future than I am to invest. But actually, making even small investments now will help achieve a domino effect – leaving a much better foundation for the next generations of young innovators to build on. 

LB - Whether it is investing in a brand new store, a new piece of monitoring equipment or a new staff member, one thing that this visit highlighted for me is that investment decisions should always involve long-term thinking. With dedication, willingness to learn and be challenged, anything is possible.

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