Major reform of AHDB including £60m investment will be critical if UK farming is to thrive under the biggest changes to Government policy since the 1940s.
Launching the NFU’s General Election Manifesto this week, NFU president Minette Batters said a vibrant and sustainable industry depended on a strong, long term food strategy, with British farming’s world leading credentials promoted at home and abroad and AHDB would be central to this.
Ms Batters said: “Farmers are investing £60 million a year in [AHDB] levies. I cannot have farmers continuing to invest £1m a week without the change that needs to happen.
"We are asking for complete transformation of AHDB and bolder ambition on market development and technical advice - not more of the same on the back of the AHDB review."
The NFU would like to see a revamped levy board focussed on two platforms – marketing the British brand and imparting technical advice which helps farmers raise productivity and efficiency, including meeting goals on net zero.
It is also pushing for the Government to match-fund levy payers’ investment and increase spend to £130m a year.
“Diets will change. We need to change how we operate and make sure we are relevant to every consumer,” added Ms Batters.
She used the example of Ireland’s food promotion agency Bord Bia, which employs 14 trade representatives around the world. In contrast, Ms Batters said AHDB has just one in China.
Defra’s review of AHDB was due to be published this spring but was delayed due to staff being tied up with preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The consultation outcomes are now expected to be published some time in 2020.
Highlighting the union’s key asks from the next Government, Ms Batters who shared a platform with NFU Cymru president John Davies, said there were three areas which required ‘immediate’ attention.
She also highlighted other issues such as rural crime which, for some farmers, she said was a bigger concern than Brexit.
“People feel terrified in their own farm businesses. We need commitments from political parties on rural policing,” Ms Batters added.
Beefing up the Groceries Supply Code of Practice and making voluntary codes mandatory; increasing the Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme from 2,500 workers to 70,000 and Government investment to mitigate flooding should also be key priorities for any future Government, she added.
“This is a serious time of reform, the biggest since the 1940s,” said Ms Batters.
"We are up for the challenge but we have got to be ambitious."