Anyone who has been keeping up with these things will know a lot has been going on at AHDB since the new regime came to power. Bruce Jobson talks to Amanda Ball who has recently been appointed strategy director for the dairy sector to find out more.
Why can’t AHDB Dairy promote British dairy products?
As crazy as it seems, legally, AHDB Dairy cannot run a ‘Buy British’ campaign because we are not allowed to use public money to promote British over the produce from other member states. We can, and do, promote quality standards such as Red Tractor, and the relevance to shoppers of the Union flag as a clear indicator of product origin.
But don’t farmers want you to promote their product, not just dairy farming?
It is the board that determines our activities, based on their judgement about the tangible benefits to the wider levy paying community, whose interests they are looking after. Promotion means different things to different people. I do recognise AHDB Dairy has some vocal critics in relation to promotion, but I am also aware of the many silent supporters it has. There are different ways to listen and engage with levy payers and we are in ‘listening’ mode. I feel very strongly that where farmers would like us to promote the end product, they need to let us know what their expectations would be for any return on investment. It’s really essential we understand the tangible benefit.
If levy payers want consumer product promotion as a priority, they need to tell us and there is a timely opportunity to do so now, as we are running a series of open meetings as part of our activity review. It is the AHDB Dairy sector board, many of whom are farmers themselves, who set the priorities and are fully involved in agreeing the business plans. Any dairy farmers wanting to see a shift in how levy money is spent should feel free to contact a member of the board. Although ‘product promotion’ has not been one of the set priorities in our agreed business plan in recent years, we are involved with promoting the sector in numerous other ways.
We have focused areas of activity, and one is to concentrate on children of school age called Food – a fact of life (www.foodafact oflife.org.uk) delivered through the education route. The other focuses on key consumer target audiences via PR, and then we have a direct route to the consumer at www.thisisdairyfarming. com.
Critics also say AHDB often tells them what they already know.
We are delivering to businesses of all sizes and at different stages of development. For some, the information may not appear relevant but for others that clearly is not the case. AHDB Dairy is in regular face-to-face contact with over 50% of our levy payers, and we know from feedback that these farmers value the work that we do – and we continually aim to improve our services. As part of this we run research days on host farms which offer an opportunity to see the results of research in action and to hear from our R&D managers about research which is in progress. As an organisation, we have something to offer everyone and that includes people considering their options for the future of their businesses. Right now, for many, how to survive low milk prices is a priority, and we have a range of help and support ready for farmers to access.
How do you envisage the long term future of the levy body – and where do we go from here?
This is the subject of the ‘activity review’ which is in progress. This review is looking at AHDB’s overarching organisational priorities and the strategic priorities for each of its six sectors. We have planned open meetings in Wales, Scotland and England as well as an online survey, to get the opinions of levy payers on three key areas.
We’re asking levy payers to tell us, firstly, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges to your business, now and in the future? Secondly, what should AHDB do in the future to support you and your business? And thirdly, how can we communicate most effectively with you? For those not able to attend a meeting in person we have an on-line survey which can be completed. The feedback will bring balance to the debate – and I welcome open communication in order to implement the views of the levy payers.
How do farmers make their views known on the business plan for next year?
As well as considering our longer term priorities, there is also a formal industry consultation on the AHDB Strategic Plan and more detailed sector business plans from late November to early January. The resulting priorities for AHDB and business plans for the sectors will be implemented in the new financial year. The intention of the consultation is clear – we want to listen to what farmers believe will help their businesses. Whether this is undertaking more monitor farm work, funding applied research, or pooling resources to attract additional funding from external sources, and we need the input from our levy payers to support the sector Board in their strategy decisions.
Ian Potter, in his October column in Dairy Farmer, raised the issue of your husband working for AHDB Dairy?
AHDB Human Resources operates a robust recruitment procedure. The process is auditable and stands close scrutiny. I had nothing to do with my husband David’s appointment, nor did I influence the decision. He is very knowledgeable and is keen to share his experience within the dairy farming industry with levy payers. His role involves new building design and construction, but also includes how to get the best out of existing farm buildings and infrastructure. David has been involved within the industry for many years and, contrary to Ian’s comment, he went straight from his previous position to his current role.
What about the changes at Stoneleigh – what’s going on?
A whole range of ongoing changes are occurring across the organisation led by chief executive Jane King to deliver greater impact and value for levy payers. To date, we have completed a rebranding process and restructured the delivery teams to bring the whole organisation closer together. Regardless of the organisational changes, a key point to note is that the dairy levy remains ring fenced to be used only to the benefit of dairy farmers. It’s my opinion the majority of levy payers – farmers and their staff – who engage with AHDB Dairy greatly benefit from what the organisation offers, and we must maintain and increase that engagement at every opportunity. Working effectively with levy payers and other key industry players is always important, and in challenging times it’s crucial. These priorities are central to my thinking.