BASIS training – not just for advisers

BASIS was established back in 1978 by the crop protection industry as a platform to develop standards for the safe storage and transport of pesticides, and to provide a recognised assessment for staff working in the crop protection sector. Since then its remit has grown, and while to most farmers and growers it is still recognised as the body that oversees training and certification in pesticide and fertiliser competence, it encompasses much more than that. As well as providing a range of examinations and industry-recognised qualifications, it runs an annual inspection scheme for pesticide stores and manages the Professional Registers for qualified pesticide and fertiliser advisers and for professional pest controllers.

These ensure that agronomists and other advisers keep up to date with the latest research, technical information and legislation, with registered members having to acquire a certain number of BASIS Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points each year (which runs from the start of June until the end of May).

“There are numerous ways in which BASIS members can top-up their points,” explains BASIS Professional Registers and accounts manager, Michele Williams. “These include visiting exhibitions, conferences, trial sites and technical seminars. A maximum of eight points per year can also be collected from reading a wide range of technical industry publications and newsletters.” The number of points an individual member must accrue depends on their qualification and category of membership, with those holding the Certificate in Crop Protection (for Agriculture, Vegetables or Horticulture), requiring 40 points a year, and another 10 if the FACTS Certificate is also held.

BASIS also operates an Advanced Contractor Certification Scheme (BACCS) and a new Amenity Assured standard to raise and maintain good practice standards in the amenity and industrial pesticide sectors, and the organisation has become a forum through which industry trade associations and other stakeholders can discuss how professional standards can be maintained, improved and promoted. There is even now a BASIS UAS Professional Register for the users of drones and unmanned aerial systems.

Stephen Jacob, BASIS CEO, explains the importance of CPD, stressing that it is essential for agronomists, advisers and farmers to stay ahead of the curve in the rapidly developing agricultural and horticultural industries. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen agronomy step up a gear, and with the uncertainty around Brexit, and tightening regulations, this is expected to continue,” he says. “New technology, restrictions and stewardship guidelines are being introduced all the time, so it’s essential that those providing advice remain up-to-date, and collecting BASIS CPD points will help to do so. This will allow consultants to deliver the latest information and assist farmers in making informed decisions.”

Altogether BASIS now offers around fifty different courses in various aspects of crop protection, nutrition, agronomy and conservation across a range of crop types and industry sectors. In addition qualifications from different modules, such as Plant Protection, Soil & Water, and Environment and Biodiversity can be combined into the BASIS Diploma in Agronomy, which aims to provide a qualification which is available to all experienced agronomists and advisors, including those who may not have a formal entry qualification in the industry such as an HND or university degree.

A grower’s learning experience

However, as the number of courses and qualifications on offer from BASIS increases, a growing number of growers, farmers and farm managers are also choosing to study the courses and often take the necessary exams to achieve the relevant certificate. One example is Jonathan Gibbons, who grows vegetables with his father in Lancashire including Savoy, pointed, white and red cabbage, as well as Cos and Little Gem lettuce, leeks, celery, and radicchio.

He first took the BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection (Vegetables) course when he finished college at the age of 18. “At the time, few people had achieved the vegetable certificate, so it was recommended that I went to Lincoln for the course by our agronomist at the time,” explains Jonathan. “Because I hadn’t got a lot of practical experience I didn’t sit the exam that year. I did the course pretty much straight out of college, and there was so much that was new to me: all the diseases and weeds for example. I then had two years of hands-on experience on the farm, and a further two years later I took the course again, together with the exam which I passed. When I came back after the break I understood the background to things and it was much easier.”

Different farmers and growers have different reasons for undertaking BASIS training according to Simon Goodger, Senior Lecturer & Short Course Manager at the Department of Agriculture at the University of Lincoln, who organises the courses taken by Jonathan. “We are seeing an increase in the number of farmers and farm managers on BASIS courses, and they now form the majority of candidates on most of our courses,” he explains.

“The most popular courses with them are the BASIS Crop Protection Certificate and FACTS. Most farmers wish to improve their technical awareness, allowing them to have greater input into the agronomy of their crops and an improved level of dialogue with their agronomist. They also want to make improvements in their enterprise efficiency and performance. In addition there is an element of personal development, allied to the fact that many farm manager jobs are now only open to people with BASIS & FACTS qualifications.”

For Jonathan, it was a desire to be able to take on agronomy which prompted him to take the Crop Protection Certificate: “I wanted to be able to do the agronomy on our farm, rather than relying on someone else who may only be able to come once a week for example. We want to be able to assess things every day, and I also wanted to learn how to grow the crops better.” However, there were other benefits to the course, which took place over four blocks of three days. “A three-day revision block in April saw us head onto farms for some in-field work. This was a great way to see exactly what we’d be doing in the exam and get to see the farm and chemical store too” he added. Then the exam was spread over two days.”

“The core content of all BASIS courses is quite similar, but compared to our arable option, the Field Vegetable version is more intense as most of the content is delivered in the months of January & February,” says Simon.

As well as the technical knowledge and achieving an industry recognised qualification, Jonathan says there were other benefits to the course. “You attend a course and there are ten other people there, often working in different sectors of the vegetable industry, and you learn how they do things, share stories and make contacts; which is really beneficial,” he added. “This gives you the opportunity to learn what other people have tried, together with what’s failed for them and what’s worked. I learnt a lot and really enjoyed the process.

“There is a cost to the training, but it was so valuable I’d do it again and I’d definitely recommend it to other growers. I could have done the arable course, but I think the vegetable training enabled me to meet more people from a wider variety of sectors and hear how they operate.”

Since gaining his Certificate in Crop Protection (Vegetables), Jonathan has gone on to do other BASIS courses, including the Soil & Water Management Certificate, which he completed the following year; FACTS (the Fertiliser Certification & Training Scheme); and Nutrient Management Planning, which he has just completed. On average around half of those who obtain a Certificate in Crop Protection also go on to study for FACTS. “I took the Nutrient Management Planning course in December and then completed the exam at BASIS headquarters in January this year,” explained Jonathan. “I’ve done it as an advanced module, so it doesn’t have to count towards the BASIS Diploma.”

He is also complimentary about the vegetable courses held at the University of Lincoln and has done all of his BASIS training there. “Simon runs the course very well, which is why I keep going back,” he says.

For his part, Simon Goodger, says that it is important to establish that candidates have the appropriate depth and quality of field-based experience and he normally recommends two years of practical experience. “They also need the support of a BASIS qualified agronomist to help with application of the classroom-based theory to in-field practice. Generally speaking, candidates perform better when they have the full support of their agronomist and my experience is that most agronomists take a positive view in relation to their clients embarking on BASIS training.

“The technical awareness gained on the course can lead to on-farm improvements in areas such as product selection and application timings, which may then lead to improved crop performance,” he adds. “BASIS-qualified growers also tend to be more innovative and prepared try new agronomic techniques. Feedback indicates that they can develop a different and often more fruitful relationship with their agronomist. For instance, the grower may assume responsibility for the field walking, then meet-up with the agronomist for more detailed technical and strategic discussions, while raised awareness and understanding of pesticide-related legislation and regulations can lead to improvements in on-farm compliance.”