The Government is seeking views on whether or not to abolish AHDB’s statutory levies as part of a wide-ranging 10-week consultation on the future of the board.
The review, which was launched by Farming Minister George Eustice last week, has asked for comments on replacing the statutory levy with a voluntary one or charging businesses for the services they want to buy.
In a move which will be welcomed by meat promotion bodies in Scotland and Wales, views on the point in the supply chain at which the levy is collected are also being sought.
Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) have repeatedly demanded money collected at the point of slaughter in England for animals reared elsewhere be ‘repatriated’.
Both bodies estimate Wales and Scotland lose more than £1 million a year to this practice.
Mr Eustice said: “At a time when we are designing a new agriculture policy from first principles, now is also a good time to review the role and function of this agricultural and horticultural levy body.
“The AHDB collects around £60 million a year in statutory levy from farmers and growers and currently uses that money for a range of purposes to support these sectors.
“This request for views is an opportunity for levy payers to have their say about the role and function of the various components of the AHDB in the future.”
Other areas covered by the consultation include what priority should be given to improving marketing and whether more or less money should be ploughed into a range of activities such as knowledge exchange or research.
The structure of AHDB’s board, sector boards and committees are also up for debate, with respondents to the consultation asked whether the current make-up ‘serves the needs of levy payers well’.
Jane King, chief executive of AHDB, said she ‘welcomed the opportunity to gain feedback from farmers and growers as the country prepares to leave the EU’.
“We would encourage views to shape where we can have the biggest impact and drive value as an independent, evidence-based organisation, which carries out marketing at home and abroad, while sharing best practice and innovation with farmers, growers and the wider industry, at this crucial time,” she added.
To respond to the consultation, please click HERE. The deadline for responses is November 9, 2018.
National Sheep Association (NSA) chairman Bryan Griffiths told Farmers Guardian he was very pleased to see the consultation addressing farmers’ concerns and encouraged farmers to respond.
“We will go to great lengths to gather the views of our members and that will make up the NSA’s response,” he said.
He also suggested he wanted AHDB to put more focus on marketing and on export markets, describing them as ‘absolutely key’.
On the question of whether the levy should remain statutory, become voluntary or businesses should be charged for services, Mr Griffiths was in favour of ‘making the best’ of the current system.
“I am always reluctant to throw things out and start again. You have got to work with what you have got and tweak it,” he said.
Mr Griffiths also called for more democratic representation in the levy body, saying AHDB should ‘take a leaf out of Beef and Lamb New Zealand’s book’.
Farmers in New Zealand have recently voted in favour of an increase in levy, which Mr Griffiths said was down to an acknowledgement of the board doing the correct things.
He added it showed how important it was to keep ‘banging away at these issues’ as AHDB and other bodies were now making changes to keep up with farmers’ concerns.
Colin Rowland, NFU South West livestock board chairman, said he was happy at the announcement of a consultation, but stressed AHDB must listen to the viewpoints it receives from farmers.
He called for more of the levy to be used on promotion.
“I am all for AHDB, but they should be promoting our product and opening markets for our products,” he said.
“We need AHDB as farmers to be working for us not telling us how to produce stuff.”
He added this kind of promotion would be especially important in light of Brexit and the reduction of farm subsidies, particularly for the sheep sector.
However, he strongly backed keeping the levy mandatory as he was concerned giving people the chance to opt out would mean they would benefit without contributing.
“A proportion of people would be subsidising those who do not really want to do it,” he said.
Mr Rowland joined Mr Griffiths in advocating a New Zealand-style system which has a democratically elected body, saying a similar set-up was necessary if the Government wanted the industry to become more like New Zealand’s.