Robin Appel founded the company in January 1980, working on his own, supplying agronomy services to farmers, and overseeing a fledgling portfolio of Marrowfat Pea contracts for human consumption.
In 1981, farmer support had been sufficient to precipitate the appointment of an administrative assistant, and a move into formal offices in The Town House, Bishops Waltham. Field peas and beans were supported by the EEC (as it was then) by way of subsidy paid to consumers, as an initiative to erode Europe’s dependence on imported soya beans. This made peas and beans a very attractive alternative to oilseed rape, and Robin Appel Ltd was very quick to develop this cropping opportunity, attracting farmer interest right across the south of England. At the peak of this campaign, the company contracted in excess of 250 Marrowfat Pea growers, and was loading two coasters per week out of Portsmouth, bound for Rotterdam. But by the end of the decade the EEC withdrew its support.
Just prior to 1990, Linseed had been established as another portfolio of contracted crops, and this gave the company the breathing space to re-group, and take the bold step into grain trading. The company chose to particularly target the malting barley sector. As a result, the 1990’s proved to be another exciting decade of growth across all trading portfolios.
The wonderful story that is Maris Otter began here, as well as the successful Linseed portfolio which then overflowed into nationwide Flax production, culminating in the establishment of a prototype Flax straw processing plant in Hampshire. At the same time, and on the back of the waning interest in pulses, a British Baked Bean initiative was set up on Chichester Plain, producing crops directly for the supermarket chains Safeway and Sainsburys; and new varieties of Soya Beans, developed for the northern hemisphere, were trialled right across the country under the company’s own brand ‘Northern Soya’.
The company grew exponentially, enforcing a move from The Town House (purchased in 1987) to our current office at Church Court, Waltham Chase, just a few miles down the road. Our dear old Town House is well looked after and now let out to long term tenants.
By the time we had celebrated the millennium, the EEC pulled the Flax subsidy, overnight; the Great British public had walked passed “British Baked Beans’ in favour of alternative origins, and just as Northern Soya had established its name on farms all over the country, the wettest autumn for a decade trashed nearly all of the “trial” crops, reducing the dream of home grown soya production back to just a dream!
Once again, as the company set out into the noughties it needed to regroup. Falling back onto its strong legacy of Linseed and Malting Barley trading in particular, Robin Appel widened the latter involvement with the purchase of Warminster Maltings, in Wiltshire. This in turn triggered another new initiative, the entry into the Organic grain and pulses market.
Going forward, the company chose to recognise its strengths and just concentrate on them, in particular maintaining its presence on farms and high level of customer service and personal approach.
In 2004 the Plant Breeders Rights for Maris Otter barley were purchased by Robin Appel Ltd from Monsanto Plc. The demand for Maris Otter malt has grown ever since and forms the back bone of the renaissance in craft beer around the World.
The stand-out portfolios are now Malting Barley, Milling Oats, Organics, and Linseed. The company’s Organic trading portfolio has now become the pre-dominant operator within the UK market, which is recognised by an invitation in 2012 from Camgrain, the Eastern Counties grain co-operative, to form a partnership with them, and to add their Organic contribution to ours, making use of their Stratford and Linton APC (Advanced Processing Centre).
In the same year the company establishes a full time presence across East Anglia, strengthening its own grip on Maris Otter barley in particular.
In 2015, Maris Otter celebrated its 50th consecutive harvest, it is regarded in many quarters as the finest malting barley in the world. This is proven time and time again with many prestigious brewing awards, including 10 of the Champion Beer awards over the past 15 years.
Celebrations were held all over the industry by brewers and farmers alike. Robin Appel Ltd held a growers competition, first prize went to Maxted Farms, Berkshire.
2020 marks the 40th year of Robin Appel Ltds successful existence, unfortunately the historical events of this year has curtailed celebrations.