With the three-year HGCA R&D strategy coming to an end later this year, Cereals 2010 is the perfect venue for initiating the consultation process required before a new scheme can be formulated, says HGCA’s head of R&D and Knowledge Transfer, Susannah Bolton.


“Not only do growers come to the event looking for solutions to particular farm problems, they also arrive expecting to find innovation and opportunity,” she explains.

“So it seems very appropriate for us to tap into this mindset. Future R&D projects must address their concerns and enable them to meet future challenges – so we’re keen to hear their views.”

The obvious place to start is by evaluating the current strategy, she says. “We’ve identified our top 10 outputs, and intend to ask growers how useful they have found them.”

HGCA’s 15 areas of research activity (2007-2010)

• HGCA Recommended Lists
• Breeding and genetics
• Nitrogen management
• Sulphur and other nutrients
• Phosphate management
• Disease management
• Soil management
• Pest management
• Weed management
• Low input systems
• Contaminant surveillance
• Product and process development
• Grain storage
• Pesticide application
• Precision farming 

Not surprisingly, the HGCA Recommended Lists take the number one spot. “The lists are the single, biggest R&D project funded by the HGCA, accounting for 13% of our budget,” she notes.

“It has its own in-house team, the process is transparent and independent and the results are readily accessible. In the past, it’s been rated as the most valued of all our work.”

Other projects in the top 10 include the nitrogen guidelines, published earlier this year, and the mycotoxin risk assessment, as well as disease management advice and the Be Precise initiative.

“These have all been considerable projects in terms of spend, so we’re interested to find out just how useful they’ve been on-farm. And they’ve had different styles of delivery, so we should find out more about how good the various approaches have been.”

In total, 150 R&D projects have been commissioned in the current strategy. Of these, 43 have been strategic and 107 applied, putting the emphasis firmly on research which will be useful at the farm level.

“The total investment has been £16.2m by the HGCA, but with the help of co-funding, we’ve managed to bring this figure up to £52m.”

One-third of this is spent on fundamental science, another third on applied research projects and the final third on tools and knowledge transfer. “Included in this last sector is independent testing – such as we do with the Recommended Lists – so we will be asking growers and levy payers whether they want to see more of this,” says Dr Bolton.

Independent testing and evaluation could be extended to areas such as fungicides and machinery, she points out. “There’s been a lot of interest expressed in this type of work, so it’s a good opportunity to ask more about it.”

Research Funding by Topic Area
(2007-2010)

 

Improved varieties – Recommended List

28%

Disease management

17%

Knowledge Transfer – Communications

13%

Varietal evaluation and breeding (non RL)

13%

Crop management and nutrition

8%

Grain for milling

5%

Grain for feed

4%

Grain for non-food uses

4%

Harvesting and storage

4%

Weed management

2%

Pest management

2%

A questionnaire will be used to get the initial feedback. While this will be available at Cereals, it will also be mailed out widely – to all stakeholders – and will contain more details on the consultations.

“We will base our new strategy on the input and feedback that we get from this questionnaire and from roadshows we’re planning to run. These will be targeted at growers, agronomists, researchers, members of the supply chain, plant breeders and others – we’re expecting to have some wide-ranging discussions,” she says.

Another hot topic is economic impact assessments, where there’s investigation into the economic impact of funded research. “This has been done in the past and it gives us a steer as to how helpful the research has been and whether growers have been able to profit from it.”

Dr Bolton says there is less funding available for applied agricultural research than there was just 15 years ago. “To a certain extent, the HGCA has had to fill this gap. Whether it’s our responsibility or not is another question entirely.”

She welcomes the arrival of the Technology Strategy Board and industry-wide initiatives such as the Crop Improvement Club, both of which will encourage collaborative research. “There’s still quite a bit of detail to be finalised, but we are involved with both of these and will be working with others to develop them further.”

Being part of AHDB gives the HGCA the potential to combine with other sectors of the board on key research topics, she continues.

“There are some very big challenges affecting all parts of the agricultural and horticultural industries at the moment, including greenhouse gas emissions, soil management and weed control. Coming together to tackle some of these will make our budget go further, as well as giving us access to existing expertise and knowledge.”

Eventually, a new research strategy document will be produced. “Then we will have to prioritise the research, according to what is going to be the most beneficial to farm businesses. It goes far beyond increasing crop yields, to areas such as potential emerging markets and forthcoming legislation.”


Voting plinth

A voting plinth on the HGCA stand will allow growers to demonstrate how they would like to receive research results in future.

Tokens will be used to indicate whether they prefer their information to come by post, email, text, fax, CD or on the internet, or if seminars, roadshows and face-to-face contact are considered best.

“Communications is such a fast moving area, we want to be sure that we are supplying the information in a form that our levy payers find useful,” says media officer Caroline Slay. “This is a fun but effective way of establishing which methods are the most popular.”


Grain chain

HGCA’s multimedia educational resource, developed in conjunction with nabim, will be displayed at Cereals.

The Grain Chain has been designed to help children of all ages learn about the ‘field to fork’ cycle of how wheat is grown, as well as its use in everyday foodstuffs like breads and cereals and its place in a healthy diet.

Launched in 2007, the web-based tool is valued by teachers, who can use it in the classroom with their interactive white boards. Following feedback from education specialists, the package now contains more pictorial content and adaptable worksheets, while remaining curriculum linked.

Activity sheets, lesson plans and support materials are supplied free of charge to schools making use of the learning resource in science, food technology or geography lessons. Designed for children from the ages of 5 to 16, it includes advice on nutrition and healthy eating.

“The HGCA has always been involved in helping to educate the next generation,” says marketing manager Ros Reynolds. “The Grain Chain is a good example of our work and shows the effort that goes into such an important area.”

The resource is promoted directly to schools and is displayed at local agricultural shows and on bespoke school days, she adds.


Meet the scientist

Some 21 crop researchers are making the journey to Cereals 2010, to find out what challenges growers and agronomists are struggling with.

The HGCA is hosting a “meet the scientist” event, providing an opportunity for both farmers and scientists to discuss latest research findings and try and relate them to a practical farming situation.

“Researchers have always told us how valuable they find these occasions,” explains Dr Bolton. “Not only do they get a much clearer picture of what’s happening on farms, they also develop a better understanding of how their experiments should be designed.”

Farmers benefit too, she adds. “They are able to learn more about a particular issue or problem, which may be very localised, and how to overcome it. The exchange of information is very useful.”

The revised orange wheat blossom midge thresholds, released last year, are a good example of this in practice, she ends. “The original thresholds were too high and agronomists abandoned them after a while, using their own levels instead.

“Once this had been communicated and understood, further work was done to establish and test thresholds which would be used by the industry.”