By Jonathan Riley

FINANCIAL penalties for non-assured grain are set for a huge increase in the next three years, according to cereal buyers surveyed during research on the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme (ACCS).

The research, carried out by Andrew Fearne and Marion Garcia at London Universitys Wye College, included two large-scale surveys of grain buyers and growers attitudes, perceptions and expectations.

The report showed a limited commitment from cereal buyers, with most users expected to source under 50% of their grain from ACCS growers. And it showed that cereal buyers expected to pay an average premium of 0.3% for ACCS grain from the 1998 harvest, with a 1.5% discount for non-assured crops.

But while the ACCS premium remained at about zero for the 2001 harvest, grain users were expecting to pay discounts of 50% for non-assured grain.

Limited uptake

A limited uptake of the scheme was also apparent among growers with 5300 members, covering 9300 units, and strong resistance among smaller scale farms in certain regions.

Dr Fearne and Ms Garcia reported that only 16% of growers had ACCS membership by the 1998 harvest, with a further 20% in the process of joining the scheme. But 64% of all cereal growers had not applied.

Further analysis of survey responses revealed that the uptake of the scheme was largely on the bigger and specialist arable farms, where half the units over 250ha (620 acres) had joined. But on farms under 100ha (250 acres), 78% of growers had not applied, and 70% of farmers with less than 250ha (620 acres) remained outside the ACCS.

Broken down, the figures revealed a strong regional difference in uptake, with 56% of growers in the south-east but only 22% in Yorkshire and the Midlands joining.

Of those who had applied, not all were wholly supportive of the scheme. Those fully behind ACCS were generally large-scale producers who believed it would provide a stronger marketing position for their grain.

But that represented only 16% of all farmers. And strong opposition to the scheme was aired by those with smaller, mixed farms where 65% of growers were completely opposed to the scheme. They believed the red tape and bureaucracy, without financial reward, was unacceptable.

Merchants in favour

In stark contrast, only 8% of grain merchants were against the scheme and only 3% of feed compounders. The detractors were concerned that ACCS increased costs for farmers.

Questions put to both growers and end users about the schemes objectives revealed that 15% had no idea of its aims, while about 20% mistakenly assumed it was concerned more with grain quality than safety. Up to 65% thought the scheme had a dual purpose of safety and quality.

The researchers concluded that this was highly significant and that the aims of the scheme had not been explained clearly enough by the organisers because cereal users had never been willing to pay a premium for safety assurance.

Scots scheme

The report compared the ACCS with a similar scheme in Scotland – Scottish Quality Cereals – which had been given an important boost in its early years with maltsters and processors paying a £1/t premium, and the distillers contributing a lump sum to the scheme.

It said SQC had shown safety was marketable on export markets and, so, could warrant premia which would be an important incentive for growers south of the border.

All these issues have dogged the ACCS in its first year giving it an image of a “stick” created by the farming industry for users to beat growers, concluded the report.