tractor spraying crops in field

AHDB said the strategy would have a strong focus on shaping environmental solutions on farm and across the supply chain

AHDB has promised a “major change” in how it conducts business after unveiling a new five-year strategy for 2021-26.

Change will focus on significantly improving levy payers’ engagement and say on AHDB priorities for their sector and crop, including how much levy is collected and where it is spent, the levy board said.

Also included is a commitment to a ballot every five years on the future of the levy, ensuring levy payers have a greater say in designing AHDB work programmes and priorities.

It comes as AHDB gears up for a first vote, on the future of its horticulture sector levy, in the new year. A second ballot, on the future of AHDB’s potato levy will now also take placed in the new year after a request was handed in by farmers this week.

AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir said the strategy and change programme demonstrated AHDB was “listening” and looking to build on the ‘Five Commitments’ it made in the wake of the government’s Request for Views published earlier this year.

With new farm support policies, changing consumer behaviours and new trading arrangements on departing the EU, AHDB said it was committed “to be well-placed to deliver effectively for levy payers”.

AHDB’s future direction also bolstered its focus on shaping environmental solutions on farm and across the supply chain, to meet the challenges of sustainability and climate change, it added.

’listening carefuly to concerns’

“We have listened very carefully to levy payers’ concerns about delivering value for money in such challenging times, and ensuring our work programmes are fit for purpose,” Saphir said.

“We fully recognise there are genuine differences between challenges facing sectors, crops and species and that one size of offering does not fit all. Levies in the future must be set to reflect the value provided and work priorities clearly agreed with levy payers.”

He added that AHDB would review the current tools, services and products across all its sectors to see how they are being used by farmers and growers. We will keep listening to levy payers with open board meetings, new levy payer user groups and developing interaction both in person and online.”

The five-year strategy focuses work in three areas – evidence & data, farm performance and marketing & exports.

AHDB’s future marketing work would continue to champion the reputation of British food and farming, it said. There will be marketing campaigns focusing on health, nutrition and the environment to ensure consumers continue to purchase and enjoy meat, dairy and potatoes, as part of a balanced diet. The first key campaign in this area launches from 4 January 2021.

In exports, AHDB will boost its activity, opening up new export markets for British produce in countries such as Japan, China, the US and the Middle East.

“I see the future as a period of real opportunity for British farming and growing,” Saphir said. “Our change programme and new strategic focus will provide the basis for AHDB to work together with levy payers in shaping our collective future and making the most of what lies ahead.”

Responding to the strategy launch, NFU president Minette Batters said: “It’s great to see such a strong focus on food advocacy, farm business performance and technical advice within the new strategy – some of the main things we highlighted in our case for AHDB review.

“AHDB has clearly listened to the industry and its proposals to improve transparency and governance will be welcome news for many farmers and growers.

“We will be examining the strategy in greater detail as there are still areas that are not altogether clear, such as how outcomes of levy investment will be measured. We will continue to work with our members to put forward their views during the consultation period.”