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‘Independent research has never been more important’

7 December 2018

Grower Gateway Newsletter Leader Column - Alistair Redpath

As he draws to the end of his three year stint as chair of AHDB Potatoes’ Research and KE committee, seed breeder Alistair Redpath reflects on where the industry stands and AHDB’s role moving forward.

The loss of Diquat is a blow to the industry, and with enforced changes to the formulation of products containing Maleic Hydrazide and question marks over the future of other chemicals – the loss of actives is starting to bite.

In my opinion, the need for well planned, independent research has never been greater. In my role as chair of AHDB Potatoes’ Research and Knowledge Exchange (R&KE) Committee I lead a group of industry representatives, including a number of growers, who oversee and interrogate the research that AHDB Potatoes funds*.

I leave this role in March, when I will have completed a three year term, and my successor will inherit an important job during a period of rapid change.

When I accepted the position, I could not have guessed that the end of my tenure would coincide with Britain exiting the European Union, but so it has come to be.

Many potato growers will experience relatively few changes, compared to other agricultural sectors, but for my own corner of the industry, the seed business, a poorly handled Brexit will be extremely damaging and businesses have contingency plans in place.

It is those who are conducing international trade who are watching the wrangling over the Brexit deal most closely. As if you’re not trading with an EU state, then your trading under a trade deal agreed between the EU and a ‘third country’.

No matter how close your connection to Brexit, all growers will experience change. Be it having to find alternative treatments to replace lost actives, or maybe even finding new varieties or markets – nobody can expect to be operating with the same plan they were using last year.

I believe in the work AHDB is doing to help growers prepare for change, and there are various ways for you to engage with it.

Learn from your neighbours

The Strategic Farm programme provides you with an opportunity to come and view the latest research in practice in a commercial farm environment, and most importantly discuss with other growers how the ideas demonstrated might work.

Through the R&KE committee I have had a hand in setting the agenda, and managing the balance between scientific rigour and providing topical talks on farm.

I was pleased to hear the KE team at AHDB had managed to adapt this year’s programme, when it became clear that continued use of diquat was under threat, and include trials on alternative burn-off techniques.

For my own part, I found that you’re never too old to learn something new and came away from AHDB’s recent Seed Industry Event with a better idea of how we will handle burn-off in the post-diquat era.

Measure, analyse and compare your own business

The new version of Farmbench includes several improvements on reporting for potato growers and adds further enterprises, such as sugar beet, to the tool.

As the number of users increase, so will the quality of the comparisons that can be made, as more and more growers from your sector and soil type join business improvement groups and anonymously input their data.

The tool can also be used to test various scenarios that you may be planning from a financial standpoint and can help you to decide where the future of your business will lie.

I often hear concerns about customers knowing figures and using this to drive down prices. Not only is data anonymous and secure, but the reality is that our customers know what it costs to grow potatoes – they have their own growing operations, contacts and access to other data sources.

Farmbench offers growers an opportunity to access big-data and this can help you make better-informed decisions.

*Independent research

The provision of robust and independent evidence, is one of the core services that AHDB provides. The organisation, guided by industry through the Sector Boards, R&KE committee and similar groups funds much of the research that will shape the way we are able to deal with continued change.

The research is normally completed by organisations such as NIAB CUF, The James Hutton Institute or similar. AHDB provides the mechanism for industry to influence what research is funded, and the catalyst for partnerships with other bodies such as Scottish Government, whose role on topics such as Blackleg is vital.

I have enjoyed playing my part in that process, but after I leave the changes will continue to come. Whether they are political as mentioned above; or environmental, like that spreading and changing threat of PCN, or aphid and fungicide resistance; the way we grow potatoes will continue to change.

I would close by urging growers to get involved with AHDB, and the events and services it provides. Your input and opinions are appreciated, and help to create the value that services such as Farmbench and Strategic Farms provide.”

Alistair Redpath, November 2018

Grower Gateway December 2018 - Contents

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