An open letter to levy payers about Shape the Future from AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir


Brexit, Covid 19, environmental challenges, reductions in direct payments and now the fallout from the invasion of Ukraine. We all face a period of significant change, volatility, and risk, but also one of real opportunity.

Apart from pigs, on-farm prices for many commodities have risen to record levels. Through collaboration, we have navigated the loss of hospitality markets during the pandemic, met the challenges in maintaining valuable export markets and increased domestic uptake of supplies. We are chipping at the edge of the labour shortage. We have challenged, and won, against the unprecedented attacks by activists on the consumption of meat and dairy.

As British farmers and growers we are often characterised as independent and self-sufficient. This is true, but there is nothing wrong or weak in recognising that at this time of unprecedented change we need to come together to deliver resilience and strength from further collaboration between ourselves and the whole supply chain.

Farming’s representative bodies do vital work in identifying and raising issues to ensure the farming and land management voice is heard by Government and the public. However, at the same time in what has suddenly become a much more uncertain world, 75 years of direct farm support is being brought to an end, with an expectation that farmers and growers will have to become more self-reliant. To make the right decisions and to face the important changes ahead, each one of us will need to have the best available understanding of the future, be aware of market challenges and adapt production to meet the opportunities.

AHDB is the only large scale, well-resourced, truly independent organisation capable of delivering our collective needs and it must be well-functioning, cost efficient and reflect the requirements of levy payers. The last two years have demonstrated that together we have communicated robust nutritional and environmental information to consumers while confronting fake environmental and health news. New overseas markets have been opened and AHDB continues to provide the latest insight on production challenges including comparing the performance of seeds, inputs, and evolving production methods. All this work needs to be maintained and improved and so the ‘Shape the Future’ campaign is a critical opportunity for helping to deliver farming success.

With a short time to go before the close of the window for registration (noon on 31 March) around 25 per cent or more of the Cereals and Oilseeds, Pork and Dairy sectors have already registered. I would plead to any levy payers who have not yet registered do so, to have their voice heard.

In Beef and Lamb, despite a good response and support from those in the supply chain who pay levies, we have had remarkably few registrations from farmers. It is true that current prices are high, reductions in farm payments have not yet started to hit home and the dramatic rise in the cost of inputs has not had the same impact as for arable, pig or dairy businesses. Perhaps you consider AHDB are delivering everything that you want to support your business? But knowing many of you, I doubt if it’s that simple.

The next few years will probably be tough, and we need to hold and develop markets, reinforce our generally high-quality offer against increasing demands of improved animal performance in the face of climate change, whole life assurance schemes and greater demands on animal welfare.

Please take a few minutes to register to ensure what we do with your levy supports your business.