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AHDB Agronomists’ Conference 2016: What do agronomists want from AHDB?

20 December 2016


AHDB Agronomists’ Conference 2016 – AHDB Potatoes 

What do agronomists want from AHDB?

Potato agronomists, product supply specialists and their counterparts in the supply chain, attending the recent AHDB Potatoes conference in Peterborough highlighted some key AHDB activity they would like to see developed to help improve knowledge transfer to levy payers.

Introducing an interactive session at the conference, Phil Burgess, AHDB’s head of potatoes knowledge exchange, said a recent survey showed that agronomists were the favoured source of information for 89% of growers.

“There are around 160 of you in the room and we recognise the huge potential of that resource.” 

Variety database

Variety information was the most common theme arising from the session. The overall feeling was that the database needed to include more varieties and more information on pest and disease resistance and end-use. The independent information available was clearly valued but delegates would be keen to see this developed further.

Phil Burgess said “It’s a very complex area – there are almost 300 varieties grown in the UK, with many aimed at specific supply chains. And it’s an unfortunate fact that only a few new varieties actually make it to become widely grown commercial success stories. So as an industry we need to ensure we target the right testing at the right varieties. 

“However, the database is obviously popular with a lot of agronomists, so if there is added value needed, it is something we need to look at.”

Website improvements

The availability of detailed independent information online was a key element for agronomists and difficulty accessing information online was a key area highlighted in the feedback, said Dr Burgess. 

“The impression I get is that agronomists and others know the information is well worth having, if only they could find it. We also know the website is in need of attention – it is a conglomeration of six different websites following the creation of AHDB, each on its own platform with its own look and feel.

“It is a massive resource – and feedback is coming in on how to make the content more accessible and how to pull the six sites together, with a phased redevelopment to one website starting in early 2017.”

Some agronomists suggested notification of new content via email as a solution. “The idea is that this would contain embedded links that would take people straight to the information, which is an area worth exploring,” said Phil Burgess.

Research info and online tools

Agronomists also wanted quicker access to information, particularly with long-term research projects.

Rather than waiting three to five years for information, useful and timely interim messages could be released, with appropriate caveats. Dr Burgess agreed this was worthy of further discussion.

Most agronomists considered online tools, such as the PCN calculator, storage cost calculator and various decision support tools for pest and disease control, to be very useful.

“It is certainly on our agenda to maintain and develop the tools we have,” said Dr Burgess. “We should probably be working with other organisations to do this. 

“Creating a new app or tool is a big process, so we need to be sure they are what people want and that they will get plenty of use.”

One good example was the introduction of the more reliable Hutton Criteria to replace Smith Periods into the Blightwatch forecasting tool, he added. 

Strong support for SPot Farms

The Spot Farm programme, which up-scales research and demonstrates on-farm implementation of the science from AHDB Potatoes £1.5m annual R&D investment, was very well supported, said Mr Burgess. 

“It seems we are hitting the right set of buttons with this programme – that came across strongly,” he added.

There were calls for more, smaller regional host farms to help engage to more growers, concentrating on two or three key messages.

“That is something we are currently looking at, and we expect to announce developments in time for next season.”

Increasing the soil research programme was largely welcomed. “Most feedback was very supportive of the need for research on soils. Perhaps some of the audience were not aware what we are doing – we are at the start of a long programme so that’s understandable.

“We as an industry have not prioritised soil research for a generation, and it will be three to five years before the results of this new programme start coming through.”

Market information

Market intelligence was viewed by most as useful, particularly for non-contracted growers, and generic promotion and discussions with retails were also largely welcomed.

“Many agronomists are also commercially involved in their clients’ businesses,” said Rob Clayton, AHDB Potatoes strategy director. “Many said they were there to make money for farmers, and needed to understand the market place. This was quite a positive point in the agenda." 

Dr Clayton said all of those providing advice and instruction on cropping were key to developing the new three-year AHDB strategy, which was out for consultation.

The open session and subsequent feedback had provided plenty of useful starters, he said.

“All the information has been collected, and we will discuss the implication at the next meeting of the Research and Knowledge exchange committee of AHDB potatoes.

“We have to get this right, and ongoing discussions with the agronomy sector are a big part of that.” 

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