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'Do not use our money to tell us how to farm'

Farmers have reacted angrily to what they see as AHDB’s move away from marketing and promotion to focus on knowledge exchange.

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Sheep farmers anger over amount of AHDB levy spent on promotion

The proportion of levy money spent on promotional activity has long been a bone of contention for members, with many feeling it should make up the majority of money spent.

 

In recent months the board has undergone a period of restructuring, with some departments such as market intelligence amalgamating to increase efficiency and measures brought in to help farmers share best practice through knowledge exchange frameworks.

 

National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker said his members were concerned AHDB was neglecting promotion when the industry needed it most.

 

"Farmers are quite cross about it - they do not want their money to be spent on knowledge exchange or people telling them how to farm better. They feel the levy should be used to promote their product.

 

"With Brexit looming, NSA feels it is about product development, opening up relationships between us and other countries, making sure we have the right specification of lamb for all these markets and it is about promotion."

 

Mr Stocker said farmers were also concerned the organisation was losing ’experience and expertise’ following a number of staff departures.


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NSA chairman Bryan Griffiths added: "When the trading environment is so uncertain it could not be a more important time to promote our products into new markets."

 

Mr Griffiths said the board’s structure meant members had little say in how levy was spent.

He added: "I think we need to emulate the success of our counterparts in New Zealand where a democratically elected body decides how to spend the money."

 

NFU South West chairman Colin Rowland said farmers needed the levy body, but that it must work with farmers and listen to how they want their money to be spent.

 

AHDB chief executive Jane King said focussing on knowledge exchange over promotion was a ‘red herring’, with the organisation spending ‘a huge amount’ on promotion both in the domestic market and overseas.

“The decisions are made by the sector boards – they decide how much money is spent,” Ms King said, adding farmer to farmer learning was also critical to finding ‘smarter’ ways of working.

 

“Are we spending money differently? Of course we are. We cannot just preserve the whole thing in aspic.

 

“We have less people eating meat based on health choice and not cost and we have to tackle that head on. Out target audience is millennials so of course farmers will not see these ads – they are not the target. If we stand still we will be outmanoeuvred by the competition.”

 

Ms King highlighted the board’s ‘phenomenal’ record of opening up new markets.

 

As a result of a recent UK trade delegation to China, a Chinese delegation was visiting the UK to inspect a number of processing plants this week.

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