Andrew Arbuckle: Research and levy quibbles make me count up to ten...

I AM told by my daughters "just take a deep breath and count to ten" and that often but not always works. So if that is the remedy what is the problem?

Again I refer to my offspring, who reckon the trigger is pulled when their dad listens to someone making a totally outrageous remark or, as they define it, "taking the opposite view from their father".

It happened last week at a meeting where the Home Grown Cereals Authority was trying to justify their request for a 15 per cent rise in the levy they charge cereal producers. One producer reckoned this was an outrageous and preposterous demand.

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He fulminated: "You seem to think of farmers as cash cows. You are seen as being remote from Scottish grain growers and since your levy is based on tonnage and we Scottish growers grow bigger crops than in England we are paying proportionately more to your organisation."

Another farmer wondered why the grain trade and processors should not be made to dip more deeply in their pockets if the HGCA was needing more cash.

By this time I had counted up to nine and a half and was very frustrated by the lack of vision of those complaining.

It had been explained that the proposed rise in levy was the first one for 14 years and that over the past decade and a half inflation had effectively reduced the value of the levy by more than one third.

Those attending had also heard that the research commissioned by the HGCA was reckoned to improve the growers' fortunes quite substantially. A ratio of 9 gained for every 1 spent was mentioned.

The problem areas currently facing cereal growers were highlighted. These include the reduced armoury of chemicals they have to deal with the various pests and diseases that attack the growing grain crops.

Basically, I was convinced of the need for an increase of 6p per tonne in the levy. Yes, you have read that correctly, the rise may have been portrayed as a double digit percentage increase but the proposal is only 6p per tonne.

One of the big reasons why HGCA is looking for the extra cash is that the UK government has already indicated it will be reducing funding for the Link project which is part of the Defra budget.

Summing up the situation, farmers will be required to put more money into their own future. If they value research, development and promotion of the food they want to produce, then levies to such bodies as the HGCA are required.

In the past, I have supported the increase in levy put forward by Quality Meat Scotland as I believe it is a good deal. Equally, I support the phased increase in Potato Council levy.

I am aware that farmers reading this can state quite accurately that I do not have to pay these levies or see them shaved off their cheques for grain, potatoes or meat.Therefore, unlike them, my opinion does not affect me financially.

I suppose my views must have been formulated in the 1960s when my father was on the Potato Marketing Board and one farmer in Kent, Jack Merricks, refused to pay his levy. It was a topic around the home and from that time I was injected with the view that research helped keep UK farming competitive.

Few would disagree so the issue turns to who should pay for the research. Should it be from the public purse or should the industry carry the burden?

I support the idea of basic research being paid for by the taxpayer but when it moves towards commercialisation then the industry must pick up the tab.

Our scientific and research communities provide Scottish agriculture with solutions to many of the barriers the industry faces.