Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.
Borderfields produce Rapeseed Oil
A group of Borders farmers have set their store to trade beyond the farm gate in premium products through a newly formed company.
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.
|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, 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 Nixon.
“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 produced oil.
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