A bitter row has broken out about how money raised through livestock levies should be spent after levy board reforms take effect on 1 April.

Four key livestock associations says they are worried that the NFU is pushing a centralisation agenda which is not in the best interests of English beef and sheep farmers.

But the NFU has hit back at the claim, accusing the groups of misrepresenting their position.

Statement

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, the Livestock Auctioneers Association, the National Beef Association and the National Sheep Association have today (Friday, 7 March) issued a joint statement.

It says the new Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board – supported by the NFU – appear to be moving towards a “super” levy board controlling major areas of expenditure with very little decision making being left to the individual sectors.

The group claims that it was suggested at the NFU Conference that marketing funds should be used exclusively for one logo covering all sectors – rather than more sector-specific, quality-based standards.

“Scottish and Welsh producers are not going to desert their own established meat logos and fund one common logo covering all of GB, so why should English livestock producers not be allowed to differentiate their product in the same way,” it said.

“The deluded dream of a levy board palace and an all powerful centralised board, espoused by the big boys looking down on high, is a millions miles away from the aspirations and needs of family run livestock farmers.”

Bitter disappointment

NFU president Peter Kendall said he was bitterly disappointed with the statement. The union was not pushing a centralising agenda and it was untrue to suggest that the NFU was arguing for livestock farmers levies to be used to fund the promotion of products from another sector.

“We have always argued that the levies paid by any one sector should be ring-fenced for spending within that sector. These organisations know that perfectly well.

Minimise spending

Mr Kendall said that the whole thrust of levy board reform was to minimise spending on overheads and duplication, to maximise the funding available for promotion, marketing and research.

“We want to find common themes where the individual sectors decide they do want to work together. The name of the game is delivering better value for the levy payer’s money. We want to get more bangs for our bucks.

“One area with obvious potential for doing that is in the promotion of farm assurance standards so as to differentiate British farm produce from the imported competition. We make no apologies for believing that this can best be achieved through the development and promotion of a single, strong, well-supported marquee [Red Tractor] that can be used to add value to the whole spectrum of farm assured outputs.”

Mr Kendall added that he would draw a clear distinction between this and the promotion of individual commodities which “should entirely be a matter for the sector concerned”.

“Our vision is one in which the various sectors of British farming complement each other in their promotional activities, rather than tripping over each other.”

Chris Dodds, chief executive of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, said that there were issues that needed airing among farmers. “The NFU is being told by four key bodies that they are uncomfortable with some key issues. They need to sit up and listen.”