Strategic development for National Institute for Agricultural Botany recommended list for  grass and clover

Project number:                    74604

Lead contractor:                   British Society of Plant Breeders

Partners:                                   EBLEX, DairyCo

Start & end date:                   01 March 2009 – 01 May 2011

Actual end date:                    October 2011

 

The Problem:

The herbage Recommended List (RL) is a collaborative cross-industry venture involving plant breeders, seed merchants, NIAB, NFU and BGS.  Income for the Recommended List (RL) has declined over the last 5 years prior to 2009, reflecting a fall in herbage seed sales.  A plan was proposed in which DairyCo will jointly contribute with EBLEX to the funding of this scheme for 2009, 2010 and 2011 as an interim measure to allow the scheme and RL to continue and become self-financing again.

 

Project Aims:

  • To increase the number of participants in the scheme by targeting those who do not currently participate.
  • To promote the advantages of selecting varieties from the list.

 

Approach:

An herbage advisory committee was formed and met twice yearly.  The aim of the committee was to develop a business plan to investigate ways of developing the herbage RL scheme to increase its membership and increase industry awareness of the annually published forage RL.  Focus was also given to ensuring that the potential benefits to farmers making appropriate use of the varieties is well known by working with the KT teams of EBLEX, DairyCo and British Grassland Society.

 

Deliverables:

Recommended lists have been generated every year, and were widely available to the industry.  The information from the RL was used in articles and industry briefings to raise its profile, and has been used as part of forage events managed by the AHDB divisions and BGS.

 

Results :

A Herbage Varieties Guide Advisory Group was established, and had representation from levy paying merchants, NFU, Dairy Co, EBLEX, NIAB, plant breeders, BGS and BSPB. The Group met every six months and gave guidance on the scheme finances, communications initiatives and protocols for tests and trials.

The scheme was successfully returned to self-financing through staged levy increases, the introduction of a new subscription for breeders with varieties on the RL, one-off contributions from NFU and HCC and the support from AHDB through this project. The Advisory Group set a target of building a reserve of 75% of one year’s operating cost, which the scheme achieved in 2010. Five additional merchants joined the scheme during the period of this grant.

A revamped RL booklet was produced and targeted at farmers, providing them with the data considered to be the most valuable to farmers. Distribution through Dairy Co, EBLEX, BGS, BSPB and the merchant trade reached around 50,000 copies in the final year of the project which meant that information about the RL was probably reaching all relevant farmers.  Anecdotal evidence from those distributing the booklet at meetings and other events was that it was very well received and a valuable tool for increasing farmer awareness of the RL. The booklet has also gone into colleges, thereby drawing the importance of using the best varieties to the attention of the next generation.

The RL and the levy scheme were also promoted to farmers and the trade at well-attended re-seeding days organised by BGS and AHDB at Harper Adams in 2010 and at DuchyCollege in 2011.  Presentations were given on the RL and the benefits of using recommended varieties and levy payers had trade stands promoting their own companies and the RL at both.

NIAB hosted levy payer demonstration days at RL trial sites and the RL was also promoted by AHDB, BGS, NIAB, breeders and merchants at the major grassland events including Grasslands & Muck and the Dairy Event and in the press. All of this has raised awareness and also helped farmers and merchants to understand the value of the list, how to use it and the benefits of growing recommended varieties.

The advisory group has allowed the RL to be run as a true cross industry initiative with participation from all the key players and ensured that the RL and the testing system are relevant to the industry and that the results reach it.

Regrettably the strategy for increased promotion and visibility of the scheme did not achieve its objective of drawing in the major non-participating merchants during the three years of the project and a further review is now underway (September 2011). The collaboration between AHDB, BSPB and other interested parties has however grown stronger during the course of the project and the review that has become necessary offers opportunities to further modify and adapt the RL to meet the needs of all its users and strengthen it both technically and financially going into the future.

 

Planned activity:

EBLEX will continue to promote and support the recommended herbage varieties list and incorporate into all relevant industry communications and events.