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Where next for AHDB? I am writing this editorial just a few days after the potato sector voted decisively against continuation of the AHDB potato levy. This follows a similar result in the horticulture sector ballot conducted a few weeks earlier and inevitably there are now calls for ballots in the remaining AHDB sectors. What happens next in potatoes and horticulture and beyond is down to Government – we must wait and see.
Levy payers have made it clear they do not believe they are receiving an adequate return on their levy investment and as costs are scrutinised ahead of the most far-reaching changes to farm support in a generation, it is inevitable – and proper – that questions should be asked. Has AHDB done enough to demonstrate the value of its outputs to farmers and growers? The ballot results would suggest no. Has it done enough to address the long-running disquiet over the balance between spending on marketing and R&D? Again, the ballot results indicate no.
Will arable and horticultural businesses need the market intelligence, R&D and knowledge transfer AHDB currently provides going forward? I would suggest the answer to this question is resoundingly yes. The challenge is how best to fund and deliver these activities. This is something that levy payers, large and small, will need to give careful thought to in the coming months, particularly in terms of levels of funding and equitable access to information.
Another major development in recent weeks has been the launch of Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot scheme – a first invitation to farm businesses to engage with the new support system.
Much of the debate has focused on whether ‘incentive’ is a proper description. The information provided by Defra provides some clues about what farmers might be expected to do, but much is unclear and a full list of actions to be paid for will not be published until June. In the meantime, some believe entering into a Countryside Stewardship Scheme starting in 2022 would currently be a better option.
But enough of politics. Outside, the land is drying out and spring fieldwork is underway. We bring you an issue packed with agronomy and machinery developments and insights, from yellow rust (see pages 24-25) and bruchid beetle control (p47-48) to potato logistics (p57-59), root sampling as a tool for milling wheat N management (p70-71) and autonomous gantry tractors arriving in the UK (p63-65). Farming may be challenging, but it is never dull.