The levy organisation, AHDB, is on a mission to reinvent itself and it is calling on farmers – its paymasters – to shape the future.
As the dust settles on ballots which saw both the potato and horticulture sectors reject the AHDB levy, the organisation’s new chief executive, Tim Rycroft told a press conference that Defra’s guarantee of a vote on the future of the four remaining sectors would go ahead in the spring.
However, it won’t be a yes-no ballot on whether the AHDB should exist, but rather a consultation exercise which will enable levy payers to state precisely how their money should be invested and which issues they want to see prioritised.
Mr Rycroft said the AHDB has responded to the clear thumbs-down by potato and horticulture growers by “changing pretty much everything” about the organisation.
“We’re changing the structure, reduced senior roles and the way knowledge exchange teams report,” he said.
“We’re changing our culture to be more responsive and fast moving, more open, transparent and accountable.
“We’re changing the way we run the organisation in terms of costs and efficiency.
“And we’re changing the way we make decisions about the way the levy is invested and how we are accountable to levy payers for the services they tell us they value.”
In many cases the levy is collected by processors, so in order for all farmers to be represented, levy payers are being asked to register at www.ahdb.org.uk/shape-the-future to ensure their voices are heard in April’s ballot.
Producers will be able to select the issues they think are important to their sector and rate the products and tools – such as consumer insights, the arable Recommended List, dairy genetics or exports – which are currently provided by AHDB, as well as suggest new services.
They will also get the opportunity to ratify new appointments to the sector councils that make the funding decisions for individual sectors.
Mr Rycroft said: “This is a revolution in accountability, putting levy payers at the heart of what we do.”
He also made it clear that while the ballot is a consultative one and therefore not an opportunity to vote on the future of the levy itself, the mechanism to trigger a ballot on that remains unchanged and available to any sector that chooses to use it.
The AHDB says the ballot will take “five minutes” to complete and all eligible business will get one vote per sector.