AHDB seeks more funding after ‘near death experience’

AHDB cereal and oilseeds chairman Tom Clarke has spoken of the organisation’s “near death experience” in recent years in the wake of the horticulture and potato sectors’ vote to leave, the squeeze on budgets, and the multiple challenges facing the industry.

Speaking to the Farmers Weekly Podcast following news that the AHDB is seeking an increase in the levies producers and processors pay, Mr Clarke acknowledged that the organisation needs to be doing more.

“I think for a long time the AHDB hasn’t been doing everything it needs to do to really show levy payers the value that we can provide,” he said.

See also: Farmers consulted over higher AHDB levies from 2024

“What we do is so important, so we need to do more of it. We need to do it better.

“We need to do it with an eye on the levy payer and making sure that what we provide makes a real difference to their businesses and to the future of the agricultural industry.”

Mr Clarke agreed that the AHDB has been in “survival mode” in recent years, given the shock of the horticulture and potato sector votes to quit the organisation, and the subsequent “shape the future” exercise, which has sought to restructure governance and reprioritise work streams.

‘Near death experience’ 

“I describe what the AHDB has been through the past two or three years as a near death experience,” he said. “For a long time it’s been focused inwardly, trying to stay alive and trying to get itself right.

“Now we’re through the worst of that and now we need to step up. We need to change gear and start delivering for levy payers – and that’s where this is coming from.”

The need for a levy rise was spelled out by the AHDB at this week’s Cereals 2023 event.

According to AHDB engagement director Will Jackson, the value of the board’s levy income has slumped by 40% over the past decade and the funding situation is becoming “urgent”.

“There have been no increases for more than a decade, inflation has eroded the value of the levy by about 40% in this time, and there needs to be a significant step taken to close this gap,” he said.

As such, the four AHDB sector councils have begun a series of discussions with farmers and processors about increasing levy rates, with a formal consultation expected in the autumn.

After that, a more specific proposal will be put to Defra for approval, with implementation from April 2024.


Initial farmer reaction has been mixed.

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said he supported the call for a levy rise.

“No one welcomes costs increasing, but if we want a body to promote red meat products, to open new export markets, and to work to protect the reputation and ability of our industry, then we must accept that it needs funding,” he said.

But East Yorkshire arable farmer and former AHDB cereals chairman Paul Temple was more circumspect, saying he could only support an increase in levies if the arable part of AHDB was hived off and more closely aligned with other specialist organisations, such as Niab, rather than “propping up” the livestock sector.

North Yorkshire arable farmer Andrew Wilson also accused the AHDB of not listening to farmers in the past and of losing too many of its best staff.

“As farmers, we can’t afford to pour more money in at a time when money is falling out the bottom of our businesses,” he said. “Everyone who sends us a bill, seems to send us a bigger one.”

Further views have been shared on Twitter.

This is an extended version of a story first published on 14 June

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