Podcast explores Recommended Lists (RL) review results

Monday, 12 June 2023

A new episode of the AHDB food and farming podcast examines the latest results arising from a review of the Recommended Lists for cereals and oilseeds (RL).

In 2022, the variety trialling project received a score of 4.2/5.0 for importance during the Shape the Future process.

With the mandate to continue investment secured, the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds sector council (as part of its five-year sector plan) started to review the current RL project phase (2021–26).

In the new (June 2023) podcast, Jason Pole, who manages technical communications at AHDB, asked Jenna Watts, AHDB Head of Crop Health and IPM, about the review, the results, and the next steps.

Listen to the RL review podcast

How did you approach the review?

In the first phase, we wanted to get as many views as possible to understand what’s important to people when making variety selection decisions.

We ran three activities. The main one was a questionnaire, which was available online and mailed out with the RL booklet. We received over 900 responses, with most (75%) responses from farmers, which is fantastic.

Online focus groups also provided a forum for detailed discussions with farmers and agronomists (32 participants). We also held stakeholder interviews to canvas opinions from the wider supply chain.

The RL is consistently ranked as one of the best-known and well-received AHDB products. Did the review reinforce previous findings?

It absolutely reinforced what we've heard before.

Most people (79%) scored the RL as 4 or 5 (out of 5) in terms of its importance as a source of variety information.

It was a joint-first finish, with personal experience rated equally important.

However, it also confirmed that people get their variety information from a wide range of sources, including end users, agronomists and on-farm trials.

The previous RL review detected a shift in attitudes, with farmers looking beyond headline-treated yields with much more interest in resilience. Have such trends continued?

Definitely. For example, in the latest review, disease and pest resistance was rated as the most important variety feature (62% of respondents rated this 5 out of 5 for importance). It was also highlighted as a major reason why people choose to switch to a new variety. Other features that scored highly included agronomic features, followed by farm-system yield, fungicide-treated yield and untreated (no fungicide) yield.

The RL project board and crop committees follow strict procedures and criteria to ensure that the ‘right’ varieties make it onto the lists – that is, those varieties likely to deliver a consistent economic benefit. Did the results indicate that the recommendation approach is working, or does it need improving?

About 80% of farmers thought that the number of varieties on the RL was about right. Although, the result was not as clear-cut in non-farmer groups.

The detailed focus group discussions also raised several questions about the processes by which varieties are added and removed from the list.

We are working with the RL Project Board and its crop committees to address the feedback, which should improve selection decisions for the next edition of the RL (due online at the end of November).

Find out about the RL Project Board and its crop committees

The review encouraged people to suggest ways to improve the trials. What did you find out?

There is a lot of varied demand for new information, so we allocated responses to broad groups.

Performance under lower inputs – reduced fungicide, fertiliser and cultivation – was the strongest group.

New attributes were also raised. This included vigour, which we’ve looked at this before as part of the RL. It is a complex topic, but we will revisit it.

There is also a demand for more regional information. This extends beyond identifying local trials to finding trials with similar soil types or weather conditions.

There's also some concern about consistency and stability of performance. Bearing in mind the 2021/22 season, it was not too surprising to see drought tolerance frequently mentioned in the free-text responses.

The review also looked at how RL data is communicated, didn’t it?

Most people use the RL booklet, so we will continue to produce it. However, the review has made us look closely at how data is presented.

Our team will be out at numerous events this summer to show some alternative designs that aim to simplify the tables.

Discuss RL varieties at these summer events

We also plan to improve our digital tools, so people can get the variety data they need quicker.

The RL is limited by its resources. How will AHDB work out the best ways to improve the project, and when will the plan of action be unveiled?

We are investigating the feasibility, the costs and the benefits associated with the opportunities uncovered by the review. Of the strongest options, we will identify what could be implemented straight away and what would need more time.

Over the next few months, we will also conduct some highly focused knowledge-gathering exercises.

We aim to release a detailed action plan towards the end of 2023.

Visit the RL review page

RL summer edition

The RL summer edition, featuring additional information on quality and markets, is available online.

This edition also includes variety comments and, where available, parentage information.

You can access the new edition and find out how to get a hard copy on the RL home page.

Visit the RL homepage