Corrina Gibbs, Policy Co-ordinator at Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC)
Advising farmers is what members of the AIC do, so of course we think that’s a useful job. But it was very gratifying to hear Ministers from both Defra and BIS agreeing that advice from professional advisers in the commercial sector is a vital way to transfer knowledge and innovation onto farms across the UK. Sir James Paice MP, Minister for Agriculture and Food David Heath, and Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, kindly supported the launch of AIC’s “Value of Advice” report at the House of Commons, along with an array of industry representatives.
Publication of the report is an important step in a process that began last autumn. Although technical advice is part of the very fabric of farm life we felt that its importance has often been overlooked. Nor perhaps, has it been realised how much the nature of that advice has changed in recent years with a focus on resource efficiency and the delivery of environmental outcomes to address the challenge of sustainable intensification. A research project, looking at these issues, seemed timely.
The AIC research was unashamedly ‘farmer-centric’, making the farmer and their business the focus of our research. We therefore engaged with farmers and advisers and it became clear that there is a ‘home team’, which led to the development of the AIC Ring of Confidence. Unsurprisingly, given the isolated nature of running a farm, the decision maker at the centre needs a ring of people whom the farmers has confidence in. This includes professional advisers, ranging from agronomists to land agents, from feed advisers to seed representatives - who provide tailored up-to-date advice and act as a sounding board for farmers’ plans and aspirations. There is an outer ring of advisers (consisting of government inspectors and advisers), who tend not to be seen as the ‘home team’. Many farmers tend to have less confidence in their advice as it if often focused on specific policy objectives and may not be tailored to a specific farm, its enterprises and its aspirations.
There is significant potential for advisers from the inner and outer ring to work together constructively to deliver consistent and relevant advice to farmers. The recently published Defra Review of Advice and Incentives also recommends that this is a way forward under their new advice framework. So what next for taking forward the Value of Advice report findings? AIC will work closely with Defra and its agencies to further develop the advisory framework and also with BIS to flesh out the UK Agri-Tech Strategy. With at least 45 million each year being invested in R&D by AIC members they clearly have a key role to play in ensuring science gets put into practice.
The full Value of Advice report can be downloaded from our website. If you have any queries about the project please contact me at Corrina.Gibbs@agindustries.org.uk