Agronomist and Chair of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants, Patrick Stephenson, reflects on the roles of independent and distributor agronomists in knowledge exchange
Who advises farmers? I took part in a group session tasked with finding the current method of delivering KT to farmers and growers at the Knowledge Transfer meeting in September. The discussion revealed a complex and varied number of organisations/groups/individuals who delivered advice either directly or indirectly to the farmer. The strongest delivery system highlighted by all five groups was the agronomist. It became apparent that any future successful system must involve this trusted on farm relationship. The delivery of KT at the farm gate, in most cases requires the cooperation of the agronomist to ensure that uptake is good and effective.
But are agronomists a single homogenous group? I was attending on behalf of (AICC) the Association of Independent Crop Consultants. This body represents individuals and groups who deliver on farm advice with no sales related returns. The farmer buys the advice at face value usually in a payment per hectare or per visit. This accounts for approximately 40% of the arable area and consists of 244 advisors, a small proportion of farmers are self advised, the remaining area is covered by a wide group of distributor agronomists.
Distributor agronomists receive a proportion of their individual income from the amount of product they sell. So there is a big difference between the delivery of an independent agronomist and a distributor agronomist. Non independent agronomists spend the majority of their face to face farmer contact time on sales related discussion how much where and when. The independent agronomists divide their time between a wide sweep of agronomic issues, cultivation, rotation environmental, farm management and planning.
The major distribution companies have invested heavily in near market research primarily geared on product efficacy and added value sales. AICC members have invested heavily in both near market research (product comparisons) and transitional research. The commercial KT is self funding as new products or ideas, in theory, have an added economic value which gives the grower an immediate return. This is not always the case for transitional research or environmental improvements. These messages are much harder to deliver and usual contain some negative economic effects for the grower at least in the short term. But this advice is often the most important and relating it to sales often dilutes or negates the overall message.