Government urged to create ‘Arable Authority’

The Home-Grown Cereals Authority has urged the government to use its levy body review to establish a UK Arable Authority.

Establishing the cross-sector body would prevent duplication of effort, and increase the amount of money available for research and development, HGCA chairman John Page told Farmers Weekly at the HGCA’s R&D Conference.

“It is the only way to research right across the rotation.

Each crop depends on the success of the previous crop, and impacts on the next crop,” said Mr Page.

Mr Page referred to economist Rosemary Radcliffe’s report on levy boards. Ms Radcliffe recommended to government that it should establish an overarching body – NewCo – to collect payments and oversee the operations of all of the other boards.

But Mr Page’s vision is to have not one but two NewCos – one for crops and one for livestock.

Alternatively, he suggested one NewCo with a single Arable Authority sector board within it.

“Levy collection would still be simpler – one collection for all arable farms plus the processing contributions, and you would need only one HR department, and one payroll. It would prevent duplication of efforts.”

Cross-sector research would result in efficiency gains freeing up more money, he said.

That was particularly important since current research budgets would hold the UK back from catching up with other countries investing in R&D, such as in biofuels, which has implications for several crops.

Biofuels are a new challenge and the HGCA has started work on improving the efficiency of energy production from crops, said Mr Page.

But, while the UK had barely started its work, the USA was already able to deliver five units of energy from biofuel for every three units put into growing and producing them.

“And they want to improve on that.

We will need to invest a lot of money in R&D if we are to catch up, and I don’t see a source for that money at the moment.”

The UK needs to start looking forward in a strategic manner, he said.

“That’s why I urge ministers to opt for radical reform and create an Arable Authority.”

He also said the process of change should begin as soon as the four devolved ministers had decided in which direction the levy boards’ future lay.

“Once the decision has been made a shadow board should be set up.

We need to get on with it.”