There was good support for the work of the levy boards, particularly when it came to research, technical knowledge transfer and promoting products abroad.
Some organic producers felt that their levy didn’t produce sufficient payback especially in the cereals and horticultural sectors but the boards defended their work and insisted that organic levy-payers were getting value.
There were calls for more transparency and accountability, for members of Boards to be elected and for all meeting minutes of the Boards to be published. The final word goes to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board who tweeted: “How to get the most out of the levy boards? Get involved in our work.”
The discussion held on Thursday 29th November 2012 looked at the topic of “Levy boards – how to get the best out of them?” and generated a total of 644 tweets on the topic from 70 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders.
A full summary of the discussion can be found here:
Q1 What are the levy boards and what are they for?
- Levy board takes a “levy” from produce to cover cost of promoting particular sector?
- Apparently they take farmers money to help promote the industry, offer training and education to farmers + develop industry
- Levy boards are a way for farmers to collectively pay for R&D, spreading cost across each sector
- Levy boards are for R&D and achieving a level commercial playing field for chemical and fertiliser approval with EU maybe?
- To bring together hugely diverse industries so they can act as one to move forward
- From HDC-“was established on 1 July 1986 with a remit to fund research and development and communicate results to growers”
- Levy boards take bit of money to do things that farmers can’t do individually or aren’t being done by the market, collectively.
- When in doubt, try wikipedia – it’s quite good on what the levy bodies are about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_and_Horticulture_Development_Board
- For anyone unsure what a statutory levy board is, have a look http://www.dairyco.org.uk/about-dairyco/what-is-dairyco/
- Because stakeholders (farmers) pay a levy it allows the levy board to apply elsewhere for match funding (Gov, EU)
- Think more about R&D and knowledge transfer than promotion of primary product.
- They’re a gap-filler – self-funded & producer-led statutory bodies that offer services the market doesn’t, like research
- E.g. for sheep farmers: marketing activity at home + abroad to improve prices, events etc to improve efficiency on farm
- How levy boards are paid depends on sector. In beef/sheep sector it’s at the point of slaughter.
- Farmers do feel like it is a tax some don’t want to pay their levy, in NZ they vote every 2 yrs on if to keep it or not
- Levy boards tend to fund near-market research as opposed to strategic research
- AHDB is an independent organization to address market failure. Provide independent information
- Farmer/ grower/ supply chain funded. Help agri/ hort industries be more competitive/sustainable
- Levy rates recommended by levy payer advisory boards. Consulted with industry, then signed off by Ministers
- AHDB is comprised of BPEX, EBLEX, DairyCo, HDC, HGCA, Potato Council – 6 sectors
Q2 Levy payers – how do you feel about paying a compulsory levy? Is your sector board fit for purpose?
- Levy boards should be moved away from govt, every 2yrs farmers should vote on levy to pay
- Needs to be compulsory, to maintain funding levels and certainly, to fund long term projects
- Not happy because the spend on organic arable related areas is pretty thin
- Recommended Lists by HGCA a good use of levy.
- If it wasn’t compulsory it would be difficult to plan how much money would be available for R&D each year
- Majority of protected Hort growers agree in principal but don’t see benefit as EU growers have advantage with R&D/chemicals
- Yes, but if no state involvement, then no compulsory levy, no guarantees about payment surely?
- DairyCo undertake an annual survey to keep up to date on what is important to our levy payers
- How does compulsory levy deliver accountability to those who pay? Taxation without representation or does latter truly exist?
- HGCA R&D applicable to organic growers e.g. soils
- Perhaps we should know what the hort levy rate is before deciding whether it is too high!
- Rate of levy should be consulted with user groups/wider industry to feel fair to many and not few
- Still puzzled and concerned about level of influence farmers have on levy boards
- Working out Base formula for Hort levy is difficult, due to the ‘on costs’ like packaging & grading, rebates, promotions etc.
- Getting good representation of young farmers on levy boards would be huge breakthrough
Q3 Should the levy boards put money into finding new markets for levy payers’ products? Abroad, at home?
- That’s what the HGCA do anyway, don’t they? Market research, reading trends and new markets
- Depends on the market- dairy market full of brands which are well supported by advertising anyways: beef lamb not
- I worry that we are replicating research being conducted elsewhere in Europe / the world
- Yes as it enhances the Market and stimulates growth particularly niche or selective bits
- Opening new export markets is a major focus for us (EBLEX) and we were very involved in opening up the Russian market
- Providing the return to farm gate is in equal proportion to the share of levy from producers/processors etc
- HGCA carried out full survey of levy payers (+others) at Cereals 11. It was clear were growers wanted research targeting.
- Boards should focus on 1. R&D 2. Knowledge Transfer 3. Exports
- Export development key part of our work (AHDB). Delivers alternative markets, underpins prices
- BPEX work has opened pork exports to China. Good for carcase balance, as Chinese eat the parts that we in UK don’t want to
Q4 What could Dairyco have done to help the SOS dairy situation?
- Phones were red hot we (DairyCo) gave out facts & figures http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18951422
- DairyCo were a little quiet in the public domain but then “success” of it was grassroots direct action??
- A positive TV/Paper ad or something similar to back up
- What did DairyCo do? Dairy farmers, I recall, made all the running!
- A political issue so best left to NFUs with access to gov. Dairyco focus on how to drive COP to income received
Q5 What do the levy boards do for their organic levy payers?
- PCL runs independent varietal resistance trials, soil and water research of value to organic growers
- Speaking arable only – nothing like enough & within mainstream thinking mostly. Not room to expand, but ideas already offered
- Our remit (AHDB) covers 75% of UK agri output. Much of our work applies equally to organic and conventional producers
- I believe HGCA have carried out a number of organic projects
- In milk they do the same as non-organic. Feet, fertility, mastitis all important in both sectors. Sustainable business
- HDC work on weed/pest control/disease management includes non-chemical & biological methods relevant to organic producers
- We (DairyCo) provide focused activities to deliver grass roots solutions that can be applied to ANY production system
- Work needs focusing on systems approaches and creating robust and diverse approach to agriculture. Research too reductionist
Q6a A lot of farmers’ levy money is spent on research & development. What research would you like to see in your sector?
- R&D needs to address climate change, so that’s drought resistance primarily
- Development of GM wheat that is nitrogen fixing, disease resistant, drought tolerant, does 12t/ha
- Check out the Potato Council R&D Strategy 2012-2015 http://www.potato.org.uk/sites/default/files/[current-page:arg:%3F]/RandD%20Strategy%202012-2015-MedResAlt.pdf
- If more levy was spent on promoting the industry rather than on research SOS dairy would be a more understood concept
- Protected Hort would like to see more biological R&D for pests like stink bug and pepper weevil, also mildew for cucumbers
- Want to see up-to-date comparisons between tillage, strip tillage, no till as machinery changed so much in last few years
- R&D into OSR yields. They have been static for the last 5 years
- Working TOGETHER to develop a sustainable food syst- less reliant on water&fossil fuels. Integrated research across sectors
- Want to see optimum seed mix and rate for short & longer term cover crops & do they give a financial benefit?
- Our (EBLEX) trade marketing team also do a lot of work on developing new cuts to ensure carcase balance
- AHDB research priorities to 2030 for industry outlined in consultation doc with NFU/RASE/AIC http://feedingthefuture.info/consultation/
Q6b What research are levy bodies doing to strengthen resilience in periods of sustained wet weather?
- Many scientists think we are heading for a little ice age & we will have much more strange weather patterns
Q7 Do levy boards successfully navigate between scientists’ urge to ‘investigate’ & levy payers need for practical solutions?
- Most major breakthroughs in science are when you’re looking for something else anyway, so very hard to regulate that one
- NIABTAG is a very good example of levy money being spent on practical solutions
- Do levy payers even know everything being investigated by scientists?
- It’s what we do (AHDB), key to improving competitiveness/sustainability – £20m annual spend on practical R&D (1/3 of our budget)
- Majority of protected Hort R&D is carried out in Holland, UK needs to add value rather than rely on the Dutch
- Often innovative practical solutions cross from one industry to another, e.g healthcare to ag
Q8 We had a Q in from a grower asking whether HDC spends less on research since the merger. Any other views on the merger?
- HDC actually spent more on research since becoming part of AHDB – more efficient operation
- Usual reply I guess, does bigger mean better?
Q9a What do you most want updates about from your sector boards? e.g. agronomy/benchmarking/monitor farms/production costs
- Prot Hort needs levy board to apply for chem approvals to keep pace with EU growers when chem companies won’t pay the fee!
- Just got my milkbench+ back from DairyCo. Tracks physical and financial data well. Copies to bank, consultant etc
- Don’t want any updates on benchmarking etc – can get all that elsewhere thanks!
- Field Days are good, but only have a limited audience. So perhaps ‘all of the above’, to suit maximum number of levy payers
- More granularity i.e. telling me a lamb is worth X in a UK region isn’t good enough, needs to be more local
Q9b How do you prefer to receive technical info? e.g. field days/workshops/from your agronomists/websites/press articles
- Tech notes as PDF files best for me
- Technical papers are essential for the background detail plus the glossy guides to reinforce the message.
- Field day or at Cereals or similar, and then permanently available on website please!
- Can’t beat an informative workshop! Also smartphone Apps? Done right, incredibly effective
- A combination of all the above to help get it across to all types of people.
Q10 So how do we get the most out of our levy boards?
- Engage with our work – open meetings, workshops, events, tech factsheets, online. Lots of opportunities
- Potato Council has Board and committee vacancies
- I think that Levy boards generally do a great job – ag far better in UK with them. Difficulty is asking for more £
- Looks like YouTube channels are already being used to good effect by our Levy bodies
Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants and Alan Spedding, 2 December 2012