By Charles Abel

STRONGER links throughout the British grain chain – that is the goal of the Home-Grown Cereals Authority as the new millennium dawns with the lowest cereal margins in living memory.

Arable farmers can expect better communication, more focussed and commercially relevant research and faster delivery of results, HGCA chairman Tony Pike told last weeks Crop Management into the Millennium conference in Cambridge.

New HGCA services could include a telephone helpdesk, provision of training and education programmes and more monitoring and industry surveys, Mr Pike explained.

Those changes would complement the HGCAs new research strategy, which will become more proactive and more responsive.

“We are increasingly seeking new projects to address key industry needs as we define them and looking to react more rapidly to emerging issues – such finding alternatives to lindane after its ban.”

Research is also set to move to a more commercial footing, Mr Pike signalled.

“When considering project proposals we will want a stronger fix on whether a project has a realistic chance of delivering commercial benefit when it is concluded.”

Getting results from the 6m/year research programme to all growers more rapidly is a further goal.

MAFF recently helped by providing a mailing list for the UKs 70,000 arable farmers.

Over 23,000 have already responded, asking for regular information updates.

“That shows the level of interest in HGCA work out there,” commented HGCA chief executive Paul Biscoe.

The list will be used to tailor info offered to the specific needs of individual farmers, he notes.

Fostering industry debate is another change. A malting barley forum will run in February. A greater focus on stable milling premiums and grain sampling are also possible.

“The margin for error both technically and commercially is getting very much tighter,” Mr Pike stressed.

“We need to produce products that meet all the requirements of retailers. That is a must.

UK Agriculture plc must carry the consumer with it, selling the benefits of innovation in advance. We have not done that before, to our cost.

“Many technical developments are set to help – precision cropping, canopy management, strobilurin fungicides and a better understanding of crop genetics. I

“It is the HGCAs role to focus this, to deliver profit and meet societys requirement for food safety and environmental protection.”