The Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) has launched its own in house academy to ensure new agronomists choosing the independent route have access to continuous technical updating in the same way as their distributor company counterparts.
The AICC has 244 members advising growers across more than 3 million acres of arable crops, and claims to walk a greater area than distributor agronomists. It estimates AICC members have over 40% of the UK agronomy advice market, with self-advised growers 4-5% and distribution companies the rest.
Succession, as with most agricultural sectors, is an issue says AICC chairman Patrick Stephenson. Hence the AICC Academy (AICCA), a way of enabling new entrants to the sector to build on their BASIS and FACTS qualifications and either form their own independent practice or join an existing one.
Mr Stephenson says the twin problems of an ageing industry and fewer people now available through the traditional ADAS and R&D routes to independent agronomy, means the AICC has to compete with commercial distribution sector in recruiting new entrants. The academy is the result of a three year project responding to the demand for independent agronomy services. It aims to help AICC members prepare new recruits for a career in independent agronomy. “The AICC needs to be an attractive alternative to distributors as far as training is concerned. The AICCA emphasis will be on whole farm profitability, not just product sales,” he states.
“The aim of AICCA is to enhance the level of expertise of these new entrants post-BASIS and provide them with a sound technical platform to prepare for a career in independent agronomy,” says AICC chief executive Sarah Cowlrick. “This will assist members in growing their businesses and future-proof the continued growth of independent agronomy.”
Trainees working with an established AICC member or member group (Ms Cowlrick says 75% of the AICC membership is in groups of 12-15 agronomists) will be eligible to apply for one of 6 fully funded academy places each year, with each year group benefiting from its own internal network as well as wider industry partner training and networks.
“The emphasis is on the AICC member to choose their trainee, with AICC supporting the trainee through the bespoke academy. Each trainee will attend a series of modules over the course of a year, and will graduate as a group at the end of that period.”
The modules have been prepared by industry experts, and will be delivered by outside lecturers drawn from industry partners such as the agrochemical manufacturers. The content will feature a more holistic approach to agronomy across soil health, mechanisation, rotations and crop protection, rather than a chemistry-led approach, as the number of spray options reduces. It will give trainees access to and assistance with the interpretation of independent R&D data. Advanced modules and a CPD system will be considered for the future.
“The Academy offers a more formal entry into independent agronomy,” Mr Stephenson concludes. “We believe it will give each trainee the technical edge to provide rounded, impartial advice to their existing and new clients.”