19 January 2001

All change for consultants

By Andrew Blake

ADVISERS roles on farms are shifting. Crop consultants need to become involved in matters beyond pure agronomy, delegates to last weeks annual Association of Independent Crop Consultants conference heard.

Risk management, greater financial awareness, farm expansion and joint ventures to gain economies of scale are all areas demanding consultants attention, if not direct involvement, as growers draw more on outside help, explained Simon Ward, outgoing rural director of Bidwells.

He is optimistic about UK arable farming. "The future is good because we can outcompete almost anywhere else in the world."

Eastern European yields will continue to lag behind those here, he maintained.

Opportunities within what some might consider park-keeping should not be shunned, he added. "There is a long term trend for more people in the city to want to buy houses with 1000-acre gardens.

"They dont generally look on it as a business decision and are not looking for a return on their capital. But the land still needs to be farmed, which is good news for farmers and agronomists."

Crop consultants are ideal partners for FWAG advisers working on whole farm projects to address increasingly important environmental matters, according to technical director Richard Knight.

"Nearly half our farm visits now deal with fertiliser or pollution issues or the environmental impact of pesticides."

Agronomists are well-placed to persuade government and consumers that modern farming methods are sustainable, explained LEAF project co-ordinator Caroline Drummond. "Agronomy is all about making sure you are doing the right things in the right way for the right reasons."

ADASs John Bailey said more growers need encouraging to explore alternative establishment methods and shift-working, at least for the week straight after harvest, to cut costs and ensure timely autumn sowing.

"I cannot understand why so many farmers are so imaginative with sprays and new varieties, but very laid back and unimaginative on cultivations and unwilling to judge individual fields on their own merits."

The 30% relatively straw-free area after break crops on many farms is a "sitting duck" opportunity for minimal tillage.

Machinery syndicates can help growers become more flexible, but the tax implications need care, warned Gary Markham of Grant Thornton. The best way to avoid punitive balancing charges is to set up partnerships, he advised.

"There is no point in going for minimum tillage if you dont convert the time savings into cash." &#42

Bidwells Simon Ward predicts a changing role for consultants as they offer more services to help UK growers remain competitive in world markets.

CONSULTANTS ROLE CHANGE

&#8226 Advice beyond agronomy.

&#8226 Environmental group partners.

&#8226 Machinery management.

&#8226 Stress guidance/counselling.