The Recommended Lists for combinable crops could be in for a market-oriented shake-up after a meeting of specialists last week.

One result could be shorter main lists backed by sub-lists, highlighting varieties especially suitable for increasingly diverse and specific outlets, including biofuels.

The meeting, arranged by the Agricultural Industries Confederation, brought together stakeholders from plant breeders to end users, the AIC’s Paul Rooke said.

Launch

It followed the launch of the latest lists, which offer growers 10 extra recommended cereals and oilseed varieties, and now include no fewer than 31 winter wheats.

There had been debate on the lists’ future for some time, and, with the levy boards’ review under way, the time was right for such a gathering, Mr Rooke said.

All present considered the RL system valuable, he added. “It’s not broke and we don’t want to fix it. But that doesn’t mean it’s 100% OK and that we can leave it alone.”

HGCA chief executive Jonathan Cowans described the meeting as a constructive exchange of views. “All organisations need to continually review their activities, and this meeting was a part of that process.”

DETAILS AND REACTION

All the new varieties on the 2007/08 Recommended Lists, and industry reaction to them, are profiled in the latest issue of Crops (16 December).

Other topics include novel grain storage thinking, latest potato harvester developments, an insight into farming in the Ukraine and benchmarking sugar beet operations.

Supported

Noting that 90% of the cost of the RL system was met by farmers, the NFU’s Guy Gagen supported its development in response to market and agronomic needs.

“If any had been seeking to challenge the existence of a Recommended List and move to a descriptive list only, that was not the consensus of the meeting. Our suggestion for trade representatives wishing to promote varieties not yet on the RL was that more use could be made of the extended RL Plus.”

Mr Rooke agreed more use could be made of the RL Plus service which provided background analysis of crop variety performance trials results.

But Andrew Newby, commercial director CPB Twyford, was sceptical, suggesting that RL Plus could make decision-making too complicated.

‘Ignored’

“Varieties not on the list tend to get ignored,” he added. He hoped the way forward would involve shorter lists, with supporting descriptive lists giving much more specific information about varieties that could have valuable niche market roles.

Penny Maplestone said the British Society of Plant Breeders remained a strong supporter of the RL system, as it had been since the inception of Crop Evaluation and the new style lists.

“The Recommended List will inevitably continue to evolve with the industry that it serves and respond to new demands for the best information to help farmers with varietal choice,” she said.

“We look forward to continuing to work as partners with HGCA and other stakeholders in the system, making sure that we can provide high quality, relevant information cost effectively.”

Senova’s Chris Green, former BSPB chairman and a CEL director, believed breeders’ advances that helped growers optimise individual variety performance should get more emphasis.

“Since the Recommended Lists were transferred from NIAB they have come a long way and have better engagement with the supply chain. But everything has to evolve and adapt.”

WHAT GROWERS THINK…

Farmer Focus writer Richard Ward believes the lists contain far too many varieties.

“As a seed grower it is very important that we grow what farmers need.

“I think that there should be a priority list for a few very top varieties and a second list for other varieties that are not so good but are still recommended – maybe this should include special need varieties.”

 

Fellow FF writer Peter Hogg says: “The huge list of recommended varieties shows just how much breeders are enjoying themselves with their new-found wealth from the seed royalties they are now raking in.

“In truth we actually have no better varieties than we had from the days of Igri, Huntsman, Avalon and Slejpner. That said, a long list gives people the ability to make their own decisions.”

 

Farmers Weekly Barometer farmer Ben Atkinson is content with the current lists.

“They are quite long-winded, but I think they need to be as everybody looks for something slightly different in a variety. You need to see varieties benchmarked against each other.”

Too much choice? Shorter main lists, backed by sub-lists that highlight specialist varieties, could help farmers make more informed choices.