Pile of cash© David Cole/Rex Shutterstock

Farmers must be allowed to decide how their levy money is spent – including on promotional campaigns, NFU leaders have warned.

NFU livestock chairman Charles Sercombe said producers remained angry and frustrated after an Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) campaign to promote mini-roasts of beef and lamb was delayed this autumn.

Beef and lamb producers “shared the concerns of many other sectors over the direction of travel within the AHDB over recent months”, Mr Sercombe told delegates during an NFU council meeting at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, on Tuesday (13 October).

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“We will continue to support the widely held view within the industry that levy money collected on a voluntary basis – although done through a statutory instrument – is actually there for the use of our industry and should be spent at the behest of our industry.”

And farmers should have an input on how that is done, Mr Sercombe stressed.

“We might all slightly disagree what the best use of that money is – but we feel the need to be engaged in the process.

“We might all slightly disagree what the best use of that money is – but we feel the need to be engaged in the process”
Charles Sercombe, NFU

“If we don’t get that, then it is completely within our right to question the methods that are being used to decide that spending.”

A £1m AHDB campaign to promote autumn mini-roasts finally received the go-ahead last month, but not before AHDB Beef and Lamb chairman Stuart Roberts resigned amid suggestions the government was refusing to grant permission for the campaign.

The campaign was forecast to generate an 8:1 return on investment. But producers expect a much reduced benefit because it took so long for the government to relent and give the go-ahead.

Derbyshire NFU representative Nick Adams described delays to the campaign as a fiasco. “What happened is unacceptable,” he said.

“The promotional campaign we have now is too late – we have missed the peak selling season for store and breeding sheep.”

Addressing the argument that levy money would be better spent on improving farming techniques than promotion, Mr Adams said natural constraints and genetics meant there were “only so many technical improvements beef and lamb producers could make”.

He added: “We need to promote – we have a fantastic product that we can promote.

“We have the advantages of environment and landscape, health and nutrition – and animal welfare. The promotion we have been getting has been woefully inadequate.”

National Pig Association chairman Richard Lister said he agreed that levypayers should decide how levy money was spent.

An AHDB Pork campaign to promote pulled pork had resulted in increased sales worth £7.34 for every £1 spent, he said.