“It concerns me there are levy payers who are unhappy” – AHDB chair explains how levy body is aiming to become more relevant

In this blog for Farm Business, Nicholas Saphir, AHDB’s chairman, outlines the aims and ambitions behind AHDB’s Change programme and new strategy, which were published for consultation this week

This week, we have published our new draft strategy and the first word you will see is change. That’s no coincidence as this is a time of enormous change for our industry, with changes from Government and fundamental change in payments and subsidies.

We are about to enter the post Brexit world with different trade agreements and on top of that there’s the ongoing challenge of climate change and managing our environment. The future is going to be challenging, and I don’t just mean for AHDB, but for all of us in food and farming.

Against that backdrop, from a purely economic basis, every business must address its current activities in terms of cost and whether they are critical, affordable and deliver value. AHDB is no exception.

In the AHDB Change programme and strategy, we address both the issue of delivering value, alongside sector priorities. If you’re an arable farmer, as opposed to a livestock farmer, then clearly, you’ve got different priorities. Over the last few months, we have discussed how best to address the perceived tension between the different sectors, and we recognise that one size does not fit all.

Take horticulture, over 250 crops with differing needs and yet we have one levy. We recognise we must directly engage with levy payers to better understand their needs on a much more granular basis, and ask what is it that AHDB should be doing for each of those sectors that brings greater value.

Once AHDB has a full understanding of the needs of the sector, programmes and budgets will be created openly with levy payers to produce a levy that’s fit for purpose. Budgeting will be on a three-year cycle basis to allow for proper and flexible investment in longer term research studies and will form the recommendations on levy rates to Ministers.

It concerns me there are levy payers who are unhappy. The structure of AHDB’s constitution is that any demand for a ballot from 5% of levy payers can only be met by a yes/no question. Do you want to pay a levy or don’t you? We have spoken to a lot of horticulturalists and there are mixed views.

But my personal view is that during this time of significant change it would be disastrous to lose AHDB’s horticulture sector especially when you consider changes on the horizon in the use of herbicides, pesticides and fertiliser and the resulting research needed to manage the fallout, together with the challenges of achieving zero carbon emissions.

If you vote no, none of this work will be available to individual farmers or individual sectors and without a statutory levy, what will replace it?

During my conversations with people, including growers and agronomists, I’ve heard growers say they don’t use any AHDB services. However, when you ask their agronomist or advisor, they use pretty much everything from AHDB such as information on endemic disease control, variety choices or fungicide applications

There is a mismatch and knowledge gap that AHDB needs to fix. Therefore, we are organising a number of Town Hall meetings in January to give us the opportunity to discuss the great work of AHDB, while also gaining valuable feedback from our levy payers.

In our Change programme and strategy we have set out an important ambition of being relevant to at least 70% of our levy payers, with them using one or more of our services or tools to help them to be successful and profitable.

AHDB needs to create a modern structured approach to getting feedback in this digital age and by switching our physical events to online meetings and webinars throughout the pandemic we have clearly demonstrated AHDB can deliver on this.

But one of the most important things this Change programme and strategy will bring about is an organisation which is more agile, flexible and responsive. In a fast-changing world we’ve got to be able to react to changing demands and AHDB must be in a position to deliver what’s needed for the next five years to help make our levy payers businesses profitable.

We would invite all levy payers to read this new document, provide feedback via our website or their sector organisations and help us prepare for change. After all farmers and growers are very familiar with the adage, you reap what you sow.

Visit www.ahdb.org.uk/strategy for more information and to book a place at an AHDB Town Hall Meeting.  The closing date for feedback is January 31, 2021.

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