When I started in the Industry around thirty years ago, the STRI was regarded as the 'go to' agronomy service. Respected and revered in the UK and abroad, it offered independent research, advice and expertise, alongside the trialing of fertilisers, stimulants and of course seed for the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB).
In more recent years, questions about this independence have begun to be raised as their agronomists are openly endorsing products in magazines and specifying certain products on tender documents.
As the organisation became more commercially orientated, necessitated by a need to keep up with increasing competition within the industry, it appears that the use of the word 'independent' is all but lost.
The BSPB, who commission the seed trials at the STRI HQ in Bingley, have expressed concern at whether this loss of independence will impact on the integrity of the ongoing trials. In the past, they have considered other venues to take on some of this trial work for them.
However, perhaps the most provocative and clearest indication that the STRI has decided to set out its new stall is their formation of Carrick Sports Construction, who are trading out of the old Souters premises, with their former managing director at the helm, alongside the current STRI CEO and one of its Directors.
It was perhaps no surprise to see Souters go bust owing substantial five-figure sums to a number of industry suppliers, as well as numerous other creditors, but the fact that the STRI now appear to have interests in their own construction company will leave an extremely bitter taste in many people's mouths.
The STRI has long been a mainstay agronomy advisor to the governing bodies of sport, amongst others but, ethically, can these professional bodies continue to use and support them without bringing suspicion from all quarters and indeed upon themselves?
There has already been much comment - most of it negative - on social media and industry forums. Here's just a few of them:
"There are too many "independents" that tie their flag to certain suppliers insisting that clubs take on those products."
"Independent advice sponsored/paid for by suppliers."
"Not entirely surprising given the management structure of the STRI, a huge change in emphasis and a very steep learning curve for the Institute!"
"Very poor. Couldn't be any more disappointed in them to be honest."
Given that a number of governing bodies are also aligning themselves to industry suppliers and equipment, it concerns me that a truly competitive market in our industry may soon be a thing of the past.