7 November 1997

Poor variety choice hits growers pockets hard

By Andrew Blake

FARMERS are failing to make the best variety choices and their errors are costing them a packet.

That is the message NIAB is projecting as it launches a revised fellowship scheme geared to guide growers to valuable information beyond the Recommended Lists.

A typical 150ha (370-acre) cereal farm could boost profits by £4000 a year if it implemented the more detailed variety information and advice available through the 83p a week NIAB Association, claims deputy director, Simon Draper.

The scheme offers a choice of two packages and is backed for three years by a £340,000 MAFF/ DTI Sector Challenge grant to improve technology transfer to industry.

Association membership offers a range of new features not available under the now defunct NIAB fellowship scheme. Those include a telephone hot-line giving one-to-one technical advice and advance copies of all the Recommended List Variety Handbooks. Also on offer in the £72 a year farmer package are an exclusive pocket guide to cereal varieties, a members only Internet site, regional information and trial site visits.

Cereal gross margin analysis, gained through newly commissioned independent work, will also be available to members only. Until now such information was included in the variety handbook.

Specialist membership – at £145 a year – is aimed at breeders and merchants but is also open to farmers. It adds e-mail/fax advice of Recommended Lists on the day of decision, seed production booklets and priority news by e-mail, such as disease developments. Non-members can no longer buy individual NIAB handbooks on combinable crops. Instead they will now have to buy them all together, at almost half the cost of basic membership, notes Dr Draper.

"We aim to help people look further than the Recommended Lists," says NIABs cereals and forage crop specialist Richard Fenwick. "We can offer the grower 12 months of essential information to put money into his bank account."

Although the changes to NIABs fellowship scheme offer extra information, they will not affect the general release of the Recommended Lists, which are funded by the HGCA grower levy.

&#8226 The latest move continues the trend towards a more commercial NIAB following the progressive withdrawal of ministry funding since 1990, says director John MacLeod.

"Once the customer is sitting on the purse strings the heart and mind tend to follow." &#42

NIAB ASSOCIATION

&#8226 Replaces fellowship scheme.

&#8226 Costs £72 a year.

&#8226 Extra variety info, advice and telephone hot-line.

&#8226 Recommended Lists still HGCA funded and freely available.