The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has called for fundamental change in how AHDB is structured, funded and run to strengthen its accountability to levy payers and to ensure that it is delivering value to the agricultural and horticultural sectors.
TFA National Chairman, James Gray said “The bulk of the funding for AHDB is levied from the profits of hard-working farmers and growers who need to be assured that it is being well spent and delivering value. However, to date, there has been a lack of rigorous, independent evaluation of the activities of AHDB. We need to know that every penny of the levy is used productively”.
The TFA believes that AHDB’s principal role should be domestic and international market development.
“Securing routes to market domestically and internationally is vital to the industry, particularly in a post Brexit environment. AHDB should concentrate on this more. We have a vibrant home market, but farmers and growers often have difficulty in finding their place in it to achieve fair returns. The export market must also be a primary development target for AHDB whilst ensuring that the returns from this work benefit farmers and growers directly,” said Mr Gray.
The TFA has also proposed several other changes to AHDB including the following:
- Scaling back AHDB’s research programme but making sure that other publicly funded research adequately covers the needs of agriculture and horticulture.
- Focusing business support services on newly established farm and horticultural businesses, under five years old and charging longer standing businesses on a cost recovery basis to protect more of the levy income for core purposes.
- Refocusing market intelligence on the leading edge rather than providing information available elsewhere.
- Working to develop the skills agenda and the pipeline of labour required for the future sustainability of agriculture and horticulture in the UK.
“Along with the need for external scrutiny and evaluation, there is also much that AHDB could do to improve accountability. This includes holding more open borad meetings, providing greater transparency on board appointments and making itself open to a regular poll of levy payers to determine whether AHDB should continue in its current form, become voluntary or cease to exist altogether,” said Mr Gray.
The TFA also believes that there should be a full review of the levy payment system so that it is fairer across the sectors.
“The Government must work to renew the remit of AHDB and draw up a business plan and structure commensurate to the need from which the overall level of budget can be determined and how this should be funded via levy. If it were not for the fact that the levy was a statutory requirement, the income and scope of AHDB would have been greatly curtailed long before now. It has had the luxury of a guaranteed income without having to justify its existence or its value to those who fund the organisation. This has got to change,” said Mr Gray.