Arable growers want to see more of their levy money being spent on disease control and soil management and less on Recommended List varieties, according to a Farmers Weekly poll.

Over half of respondents (59%) wanted more spend on research into managing disease in cereals and oilseeds, while a massive 72% wanted extra help for them to manage their soil more effectively.

See also: New research funding to combat yellow rust

Most were enthusiastic about funding being directed into areas which could boost their yields, such as genetics to create improved varieties for the future as well as weed and disease control and understanding their soils.

One respondent commented that more needed to be spent on “understanding how soils work and how we can build them”, while another suggested the priority should be towards increasing yields and not increasing profit.

Arable farmer Robert Law says that while a decreasing number of chemicals mean disease and pest management will continue to be important, soils will be one of the top priorities for research over the coming years.

Levy money spend

“I think more work on soils, organic matter, and sustainability is very important and will be key to keep our businesses moving forward.”

Every four to five years, the HGCA looks to redefine where the levy money it collects from cereal and oilseed rape growers is being spent for the following five years.

Currently, the Recommended Lists account for the lion’s share of where levy money is spent, but 45% of respondents feel this should be lower.

Funding in the last cycle saw the Recommended Lists account for £5.51m of spending, followed by soil management and grain quality each having £1.61m of funding. Disease control work, meanwhile, received £1.54m.

Research on crop genetics and developing varieties for the future received one of the smallest pools of funding, some £190,000 of the total fund. Growers clearly thought this deserved more, with 52% calling for extra funding in this area.

Cambridgeshire farmer David White believes more research into varieties used abroad that have interesting traits may prove useful to UK growers.

“[These varieties] may be regarded as slightly niche at the moment but not necessarily going forward. There is lots of seed stock out there with different quality characteristics that may be more suitable for different kinds of bread or end uses.”

On average the HGCA receives between £10.5m and £11.5m in levy funding, with around £4.6m being spent on research.

Vicky Foster, HGCA senior research and knowledge transfer manager says that, since 2011, £13.5m of levy money had been invested, attracting £16.1m of co-funding from other organisations such as the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Mrs Foster is urging all cereal and oilseed rape levypayers to give their views and complete the HGCA’s own survey on funding.

“It’s now time for people to have their say with the biggest proportion of levy coming from growers it is really important to get engagement from them and help us invest it in the right place,” she says.

“It doesn’t change too drastically, but there are subtle changes, and as we are faced with new challenges like the loss of some of the chemicals it may dictate where the spending goes. A few years ago there was a lot of interest in biofuels, but this may have changed by now,” Mrs Foster adds.

FARMERS WEEKLY SURVEY RESULTS – WHERE FARMERS WANT THEIR LEVY MONEY TO BE SPENT

Current spend

% of respondents that want more spent in this area

% of respondents that want the same spent in this area

% of respondents that want less spent in this area

1. Research into producing the Recommended List of varieties

£5.51m

14%

41%

45%

2. Work on non-Recommended List varieties’ traits and performance

£0.65m

28%

52%

21%

3. Research into managing disease in cereals and oilseeds

£1.54m

59%

31%

10%

4. Helping farmers manage their soil more effectively

£1.61m

72%

21%

7%

5. Research into managing weeds in cereals and oilseeds

£0.59m

52%

41%

7%

6. Research into managing pests in cereals and oilseeds

£0.46m

34%

48%

17%

7. Research into crop genetics to develop future varieties

£0.19m

52%

34%

14%

8. Identifying and developing crops for new industrial uses

£0.44m

17%

45%

38%

9. Research into crop nutrition

£0.73m

45%

38%

17%

10. Research into crop quality

£1.61m

17%

66%

17%

11. Research to help farmers meet their environmental responsibilities

£0.14m

17%

55%

28%

This was shown in the Farmers Weekly poll. Work identifying and developing new industrial uses for crops was much less of a concern for growers, with 38% suggesting less should be spent and 45% saying the same amount should be invested.

Andrew Blenkiron manages more than 4,000ha just south of Thetford and says he’s been impressed with where previous levy money has been spent over the years but believes as technology advances more needs to be done to make the most of smart farming.

“I think the interaction between smart farming and the results we have been getting needs to be improved. We have collected a lot of soil analysis and yield mapping but we haven’t got a definitive answer as to what to do in certain situations so, where we are seeing poor yielding areas, possibly a management tool or trial results are needed to show what is the best plan of action.”

Mr Blenkiron also suggests the worrying yield plateau should be an area receiving greater focus.

“I know there is work going on but there possibly needs to be more to help counter this and help develop varieties for the future.”

Newly elected chairman of the NFU’s combinable crops board, Mike Hambly, also believes looking at the yield plateau in wheat should be addressed.

“We are not really advancing in this area so whether we need to be looking at understanding the mechanisms in the soil, the cultivation side or the way we treat it, I think changes can be made,” he says.

He adds that increasing the efficient use of fertilisers and fungicides is vital, while tighter environmental legislation will also play a role in where research and funding should be directed.

“In a period when we are having to think about the three-crop rule, environmental focus areas and with plant protection products under the spotlight we need to be farming as smartly and efficiently as we can be with the land we have in production,” he says.