CEREAL INDUSTRY REVIEW SETS OUT 28-POINT PLAN FOR HGCA FUTURE By Charles Abel

BETTER COMMUNICATION with growers, more work on non-food crops, better market prices and more carefully selected committee members are all demanded of the Home-Grown Cereals Authority in an NFU-backed review.

Commissioned by the HGCA last year to identify the industry’s changing needs, the review explains how the HGCA should address the upcoming challenges.

Views were sought from processors, traders and the top 15,000 decision-making producers, explains review chairman Roger Turner. The final report, with 28 action points, went to the HGCA last week.

“New markets, production efficiency and communications are the main emphasis,” says NFU representative Mark Ireland, a farmers weekly Farmer Focus writer from Lincs. If addressed they will help the industry meet the challenges it faces.

HGCA chairman John Page admits there are some challenging targets. “We have a great deal to do ourselves now,” he says. But the review will also help show why the HGCA is needed during next year”s DEFRA levy body review.

Better industry representation to reflect the true needs of growers is a key call. “We need suitably qualified individuals on the committees, and we”re not always getting that at the moment,” says Mr Ireland. “We need practical people.”

Reducing exposure to volatile grain markets is another key theme. “Growers must be equipped to cope with this volatility. The HGCA has to get information across to growers about the type of mechanisms to use,” Mr Ireland continues.

Indeed, the HGCA needs to adopt a stronger focus on improving profitability throughout the grain chain, making that the sole focus for research and development, he adds.

More relevant and accurate market information is demanded, particularly for regional pricing, where growers believe data bears little relation to reality. “That is important when growers are being paid on feed-plus pricing,” says Mr Ireland. “It’s rumbled on in the past and it”s something we need to get to the bottom of now.”

Information flow has improved over the past five years, the review adds, but more targeted delivery is now required. Work is well under way to achieve that, says Mr Page.

Non-food crops get special attention. “There is a pressing need for work in this area,” Mr Ireland adds. A strong programme of activity addressing all stages of non-food cropping and processing is needed, and the HGCA should create a new cross-industry group to develop biofuels in the UK, the report says.

HGCA experience in facilitating cross-industry efforts means it well placed to deliver that, and significant non-food work is already under way, claims new HGCA chief executive Jonathan Cowens.

HGCA responses to the review will start emerging in 2005, once the full board has met to consider the suggestions, says Mr Page.