21 June 2002

Three As battle it out to gain work from farmers

By Andrew Swallow

HOW much does your agronomy cost? If the aggressive stance of two leading advice and research bodies is anything to go by, too much in many cases.

ADAS claims its independent advice boosts margins on wheat by £40/ha over typical distributor programmes. ARC says a switch to DIY crop-walking supported by its technical tips cuts £2500 off the bottom line of an ADAS crop-walked 200ha farm.

Meanwhile Agrovista, sandwiched between the two gladiators at the event, robustly defended its advice as best for growers margins. Neither offers the plough-to-plate service it provides through its joint venture with Allieds seeds, grain and milling businesses, it says.

"You have to look at the whole picture," stresses northern technical manager Mark Palmer. "It is about having a market to grow for as well as agronomy. We can offer seed and buy-back contracts. You cant consider things in isolation."

Suggestions that distributor agronomists tend to recommend premium product brands and slightly higher than necessary rates were hotly refuted.

"Look at the trials we do. We have some 25,000 plots across the country to determine optimum inputs by variety."

But ADASs Andy Wells warns tied-in growers to check costs.

"If they are similar to our competitor costs on similar sites without blackgrass then you need to be worried. Our competitors tend to use premium products at higher cost to the farmer and higher margin for the distributor."

An on-site demonstration showed £40/ha could be saved on wheat agrochemicals alone. "In reality there would probably be a difference in seed – farm-saved versus C2 with dressing, and maybe a little on a branded fertiliser too."

ARCs suggestion takes the agronomy argument further. "Variable costs are under constant review but the cost of advice is often hidden," says director Mike Carver. "There is a massive opportunity to save money here, too."

Growers should consider training themselves or an employee to recognise in-field problems and only use an agronomist strategically if at all, he advises. "The major hurdle is confidence." &#42

Agronomists were competing hard for farmer business at Cereals 2002, some advocating lower cost services, while others like ADASs Andy Wells argued that better advice could achieve the same yields from £40/ha less spending on inputs.

&#8226 Sever supply link: £40/ha?

&#8226 DIY field-walking: £12/ha?

&#8226 Question all costs.

&#8226 Use agronomists strategically.