Distributors key to crop knowledge transfer, says AIC

Agronomy service businesses play a vital role in keeping their grower customers abreast of developments in a rapidly changing technical and regulatory environment, says the AIC’s Crop Protection and Agronomy sector. But this can lead to stress for the agronomists on the ground.

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Speaking at a recent press briefing, sector chair Andrew McShane said the group, which comprises members with over 90% of the UK’s crop protection product distribution, plays a key role in knowledge transfer from manufacturers, plant breeders and research institutes to farmers and growers.

The sector aims to play its part in developing and maintaining a sustainable and productive food and agrisupply chain – whatever happens politically. But Mr McShane emphasised the complexity of getting such highly regulated products to farm in time for limited application windows, while observing storage and transport rules and ensuring the correct product label, despite short notice changes.

But the stress this places on individual agronomists is not often appreciated, he continued.  Agronomists are often caught between a customer’s desire for a fast, cheap solution to their particular problem and environmental and regulatory demands. At the same time, the effectiveness of their recommendations depends on factors outside their control - from the weather and application timing to machine condition and operator competence.

UK distributors collectively invest around £11 million annually in near market R&D to equip their agronomists with product and variety knowledge on both a national and regional basis. This is not just the cost of trials, but also in communicating the findings to growers through newsletters, social media, farmer meetings and field demonstrations. There is also serious investment in keeping agronomists up to date.

This is particularly important as regulators withdraw active ingredients with few effective replacements in the pipeline. Agronomists have had to adapt to a more holistic and cultural approach to fighting weeds, pests and diseases.

Brexit is unlikely to bring rapid change to the sector – Michael Gove has signalled a commitment to the environment and high welfare farming, so any wholesale abandonment of EU regulation from 2019 is highly unlikely, especially as the UK will still have to meet EU standards when trading with member states there.