All change for R&D fund allocation with new body

4 June 1999

All change for R&D fund allocation with new body

THE way sugar beet research funds are allocated is changing.

A new organisation to replace the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee, which was officially disbanded at the end of March, is being established.

This follows MAFFs decision to withdraw from administration of SBREC which was responsible for allocating the levy cash from growers and British Sugar, to the most appropriate research projects.

In its final year SBREC, which comprised an independent chairman and representatives from BS, NFU, BBSRC and MAFF, directed £2.179m. This included £574,552 for new work on rhizomania resistance, virus yellows, and novel sources of disease resistance, and £320,000 to keep growers up to date with developments.

The current levy on growers is 12p/adjusted tonne of beet which is matched by BS. This is the last year that the government sets a statutory levy. In future the new organisation be responsible for that funding.

"Initially MAFF proposed that a full-blown research council be formed to take over from SBREC," says former SBREC chairman Hugh Dyas who grows 45ha (111 acres) of beet near Shifnal, Shropshire. "But this seemed like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

"A council is a statutory body with a complex structure and high overheads. Currently 16.5-18% of a development councils budget is swallowed up by administration costs. We kept our costs down to 3.5%."

Mr Dyas believes a much slimmer organisation is needed. The levy could be raised through the independent professional agreement because a precedent was set when NFU and BS raised an extra levy to fight rhizomania.

This view is shared by Nottinghamshire grower Matt Twidale who chairs the NFUs sugar beet committee.

"We believe there is no need for a top-heavy research council," he says. "Under the old system less than £50,000 a year was spent on the SBREC. Under MAFFs initial proposals at least four times as much would have been needed to pay for the bureaucracy."

As soon as MAFFs intentions were known the NFU and BS decided to set up their own arrangements which would be less bureaucratic and more cost-effective. It was also felt essential to ensure that the levy remained mandatory whatever the structure of the new administration.

The NFU and BS are putting together a contractual levy arrangement which should, says BSs deputy managing director Clive Francis, ensure continuity.

"We are rewording the relevant clause in the contract, which will be with growers in June, to cover this point," he explains. "Together with the NFU we will be setting up a separate body to manage the levy money and the research. This needs to be up and running by mid-summer." &#42

SBREC success

The SBRECs success is reflected in the big improvement in performance of the UK sugar crop over the past decade.

"When I joined SBREC in 1983 the UK was an also-ran languishing in seventh or eight place in the league table of European performance, says Mr Dyas "Today we are third.

"SBREC can also take some of the credit for saving Brooms Barn which for a long time had no director and seemed to be going nowhere. We went to MAFF and IACR-Rothamsted for help. They responded positively and now IACR-Brooms Barn is a world leader in sugar beet research."

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