Stephen Craggs puts region on the wheat-growing map

The North East is not generally reckoned to be a great wheat-growing area but one arable farmer has changed that by triumphing in a milling competition

Judging at East Close Farm, from left, Pat Thornton from the HGCA, Lincolnshire farmer Mark Ireland and Stephen Craggs
Judging at East Close Farm, from left, Pat Thornton from the HGCA, Lincolnshire farmer Mark Ireland and Stephen Craggs

The North East is not generally reckoned to be a great wheat-growing area but one arable farmer has changed that by triumphing in a milling competition.

Stephen Craggs has beaten off rivals from the traditional breadbasket areas of Berkshire and Kent to clinch first prize in the NABIM Milling Challenge.

A first-time entrant to the contest, he was presented with his trophy in a ceremony at the Ritz last week.

Stephen, who farms 750 hectares with father Ray and brother Ian at East Close Farm, Sedgefield, County Durham, said: “I’d been travelling up and down on business and seeing other crops from the train window. I thought ours were looking as good as those in other areas of the country.”

The family usually plant only the Solstice variety but because of the appalling weather conditions last year were unable to complete this sowing.

As a top-up they sowed the spring wheat Tybalt in March and the judges - Martin Savage of NABIM (the National Association of British and Irish Millers), Pat Thornton of HGCA, and Mark Ireland, a Lincolnshire farmer and former Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year - inspected both varieties when they visited East Close Farm at the end of June.

Stephen said: “‘We had a difficult season last year, autumn was particularly difficult, but we seemed to manage not so bad. I thought there was a chance to put myself against the rest of the country.”

A spokeswoman for NABIM said the judges had been impressed by the fact that although the North East is not the easiest area to grow wheat in, Stephen had achieved success despite natural challenges. Father Ray said the farm was buffeted by cold winds, sea frets and was in the shadow of the Pennines.

Stephen credited his team, saying: “We all work hard on the farm, the lads work hard. We didn’t do anything different this year. I thinksuccess was due to attention to detail, and fertilising.”

He uses ammonium sulphate and ammonium nitrate. Biggest customer for his wheat is ADM and it also goes into Warburtons and Hovis bread and Jacob’s Cream Crackers through Bradshaws of Driffield.

There are no plans to enter next year. Instead Stephen plans to concentrate on new-build projects on the farm, having invested last year in a gravity separation plant.

Growing quality wheat consistently is a difficult task. Stephen said: “The North East isn’t known for growing wheat and I think it’s great that a farmer from our region has won this contest.”

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