The AHDB has been a hot topic for NFU members in recent months.
That should be no surprise - tens of thousands of levy payers, hundreds of activities and projects across six sectors gives plenty to talk about. With AHDB’s activity review underway, through an online survey (which comes to an end on January 13) and levy payer meetings, the NFU’s head of food and farming, Phil Bicknell, shares some key points.
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There are some fundamentals when it comes to the levy. AHDB must always be accountable to levy payers and its work must be relevant. Critically, it must be those that pay the levy that ultimately determine how it is invested – not Defra, not any individual and not even the NFU. This must take into account how the needs and expectations of different sectors vary, which means that a one-size-fits-all approach to activity across sectors is not feasible.
For some, promotion has been a contentious issue through the autumn and the NFU believes that marketing and promotion activity has a clear role in AHDB activity. But it needs to be wider and more strategic than consumer advertising. For instance, it should encompass market and product development, whether that’s helping the supply chain adapt to shifting consumer demand or growing markets overseas. Whatever the specifics of the marketing activity, the onus is on AHDB to show levy payers they are getting bang for their buck. That means targeted activity, with a clear objective, and where value for money can be evaluated.
That ‘value for money’ principle goes for all AHDB activity. Historically, the levy has funded much-needed research and development across different sectors. This has a direct and significant impact on the pace of progress for our industry. Arguably, without AHDB, British farming would be completely reliant on research from the commercial sector.
Similarly, the organisation’s new structure gives renewed opportunities on cross-sector coordination, whether that’s soil fertility, availability of crop protection measures or animal health. Meaningful R&D relies on AHDB’s knowledge transfer and exchange functions working. That initial investment must be put into practice.
it’s important that the industry regularly discusses the AHDB, scrutinises activities...
One area where farming sectors are working ever-closer is market intelligence. The importance of the market grows more prominent. Volatility is the big theme that faces all farming sectors and the continued growth of the discounters is testimony to shifting consumer behaviour. All farmers must have freely available access to data and analysis that is commercially independent, timely and relevant.
Sector boards must be critical in setting priorities and strategies. I’m pleased that this is something the AHDB has reiterated in recent times, although the fact that levies collected from each sector will be used to benefit that sector (this so-called ‘ring-fencing’ of levy is included in the statutory instrument that established the AHDB) effectively cements their vital role.
I am pleased that the AHDB has been raised at NFU Council, our national commodity boards, through to county AGMs and branch meetings. I think it’s important that the industry regularly discusses the AHDB, scrutinises activities and helps pinpoint the challenges ahead and the NFU will continue to contribute to that.