22 March 2002

AICC chairmans vigorous defence

By Charles Abel

A LEADING input distributors claim that independent crop consultants are becoming less popular has been firmly rebutted by the Association of Independent Crop Consultants.

"Far from it being the end of the road for independents this is their coming of age," says AICC chairman Allen Scobie.

Demand for truly independent advice, plus the desire of farmers to separate the real cost of advice from input pricing, means demand is rising rapidly, he says, in response to claims from UAP (Arable Mar 15).

DEFRA figures show 45% of UK cropping already receives advice from independent consultants, with AICC consultants representing two-thirds of that figure.

Since 1981, AICC membership has grown from 15 members covering 51,000ha (125,000 acres) to 190 members advising on over 1m ha (2.48m acres) in 2002, the associations 21st year.

That reflects the growth in demand for a professional, holistic advisory service covering rotations, varieties, seed rates, agrochemicals and organic/inorganic fertilisers, as well as environmental issues, he says. "Mimicry is one of the ultimate forms of flattery, so we are pleased to witness the latest moves by distributors to decouple advice from supply."

If distributors are truly decoupling advice employees should apply for AICC membership, suggests Mr Scobie. "However, they will have to hold a relevant degree or diploma in agriculture, be BASIS and FACTS qualified, a member of the BASIS Professional Register and must derive no income from the sale or supply of agrochemicals, seed or fertiliser."

UAPs suggestion that independent advisers are not up to speed with agrochemical developments is also misguided. Manufacturers conduct large-scale trials with independent sources, including research stations, colleges, universities and the AICC, as well as distributors, says Mr Scobie.

"That ensures farmers have confidence in the unbiased results that are produced." AICC also conducts its own national trials.

If distributors want to survive and prosper they could do worse than heed the words of Charles Darwin, says Mr Scobie. "It is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change."

Some agrochemical distributors are not only showing open hostility to independent advisers, but have also rounded on leading manufacturers, he adds. "Reduced profitability is mainly to blame, but they should remember who supplies them with their stock in trade."

Promotion of lower cost generic materials and a plethora of adjuvants is more geared to enhancing distributor profit margins than benefiting farmers.

"Most generic products are well-worn chemistry and, although in the right situation they can still make a valuable contribution, they are not at the cutting edge of modern agricultural production." &#42

INDEPENDENTADVICE

&#8226 Used on 45% of crop area.

&#8226 AICC has 30% market share and growing.

&#8226 Focus is cost:benefit to grower, not input sales.