advice – plea

25 June 1999


advice – plea

By Andrew Blake

INDEPENDENT crop consultants have accused distributor representatives of operating under false pretences. Claiming to give independent advice while retaining commercial ties could put them in the same hot water as the financial services industry had with pension sales, they suggested.

More and more farmers rely on advice from agronomists, said Alan Bide, past chairman of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants. Founded in 1981, one of the key aims of its 150 members is to provide professional and confidential advice, without any pressures from interested commercial parties.

But recent growth in the number of distributor agronomist services has compelled the AICC to re-iterate that the advice it offers is unbiased. "Who is your agronomist working for?" it asked.

"Advice is a stand alone product," says Mr Bide. He criticised a recent British Agrochemicals Association leaflet Growing Quality Food which uses the word "independent" and states that its 14 distributor members can offer every product but have no allegiance to any one supply source.

"Over the years we have seen many specialist agrochemical distributor staff calling themselves agronomists. How can someone who one day has been seen as a sales person become an agronomist overnight?

Thirty years

"It has taken me 30 years to try to become an agronomist and I still dont have all the answers. These distributor people are crop protection specialists, not agronomists. Has the BAA re-written the English dictionary?

"Distributors are increasingly setting up advisory services and charging. But they are still dependent on turn-over, so there has to be a vested interest in that advice. I would say their use of the word independent is mild abuse."

The AICC code of conduct totally forbids any financial relationship with firms which might prejudice the impartiality of the advice supplied, added current chairman Peter Taylor.

Mr Taylor said the industry risked getting into the same trouble as afflicted pension sellers recently. "The financial services industry got into a muddle because those giving so-called independent advice were taking commissions.

"Farmers recognise the need for independent advice, and distributors realise that. But I shall only believe their advice is truly independent when they are totally separate from their parent companies."

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