29 May 1998

RIGHT ADVICE IS EVER MORE IMPORTANT…

Good agronomic advice is more important than ever. But

are you getting it? Charles Abel reports the views of one of

the countrys leading suppliers of truly independent advice

AGROCHEMICAL supply is polarising, leaving farmers with fewer choices when seeking a supplier. Just over 20 companies reputedly control 98% of all pesticide sales now, making it more important than ever for farmers to ask themselves whether they are getting the best on-farm advice to farm their crops.

"There has never been a more important time to ask this question than now," says Mike Carver, director of Arable Research Centres. "When wheat was at £120/t growers could afford to try an input and if it didnt bring a benefit it didnt matter much. But at £70/t it is very different. Decisions need to be spot on for product choice, rate and timing."

This readjusting of decision making does not just apply to farmers, it applies to all sectors of the arable industry where businesses have been built and sustained on grain prices of over £100/t, notes Dr Carver.

"Look at this years drive to get products into oilseed rape. Is that technically justified or does it have more to do with the crop still having a respectable margin to cover extra input costs?" he asks.

To find the right impartial information more growers are turning to independent agronomy groups, he maintains. "At ARC we have seen membership rise 7% since October, even though our main recruitment time is usually May and June. As farmers batten down the hatches they are clearly looking at how they source their advice."

But ARC is not a buying group, Dr Carver stresses. "We can give growers independent information to help them choose products and programmes. But we are not in the business of directing where to buy and at what price."

Claims that the release of strobilurin pricing information earlier this year was a step in that direction are dismissed. "When you have a two-fold difference in fungicide costs you need to discuss the price. It would be impossible to discuss a products role without a price."

Dr Carver also refutes distributor accusations that groups like ARC are struggling to get new products from manufacturers for pre-launch evaluation. "Most manufacturers are releasing new products to us more readily now than ever before. With the way the market is developing manufacturers are looking for independent guidance before launching their products."

He goes on to deny claims that ARC has had to source development products from Europe for evaluation. "We have never, ever done that. We could do, but it wouldnt be worth our while in the long run. Manufacturers only release products for pre-launch evaluation on very strict contracts. It would not be worth jeopardising that opportunity by sourcing from overseas. We have excellent working relationships with manufacturers that we wish to maintain."

The challenge for independent agronomy groups now is whether to co-operate to provide a better service for farmer members. "Independent groups have got to decide whether to stay regional or form a more co-ordinated approach to the future, with all the benefits that will bring," says Dr Carver.

Provided each group retains its local identity the results could give members a real boost, he suggests."It would help us co-ordinate our activities and produce a more consolidated view on issues like no-spray field margins."

Meanwhile, ARC is studying the feasibility of a centre in Suffolk. "It is an area that has been neglected for too long. It is the fifth biggest barley growing county in the UK and sixth biggest for wheat. We have had members travelling from there to our other sites and it now makes sense to give them the site they want."

How good

is the agronomy advice you get? Its a question worth asking, urges ARC director

Mike Carver.

ARC DEVELOPMENTS

&#8226 Membership up 7% since Oct 97.

&#8226 New centre set for Suffolk.

&#8226 New national results booklets.

&#8226 New winter pea and soya trial programmes.

&#8226 Adding to technical staff.

&#8226 Over £1m turnover, 60% from subs on 11%+ of UK arable area.