'Creating a world–class farming industry': AHDB sets out future vision for British agriculture

AHDB is hoping British agriculture will capitalise on the UK's exit from the EU
AHDB is hoping British agriculture will capitalise on the UK's exit from the EU

The levy board AHDB has revealed proposals to invest more in boosting exports in the wake of the Brexit vote.

AHDB has launched a series of strategy documents for 2017 to 2020 covering the various farming sectors.

The documents have gone out for consultation, and one proposal is to switch more funding into developing export markets.

AHDB chief strategy officer Tom Hind told FarmingUK that withdrawal from the European Union was likely provide British agriculture with new opportunities for exporting to other parts of the world.

However, at the same time, farmers would be likely to face increased competition in the domestic market from foreign imports.

One eye on the new post-Brexit world

In its strategy for beef and lamb, AHDB referred specifically to a post Brexit approach.

"With one eye on the new post-Brexit world, the draft strategy proposes increasing the weighting of levy funds to export and market access work in 2019 – 2020."

The report said: "Post-Brexit, AHDB must continue to protect the sector’s strategic interests in existing and potential overseas markets. The EU lamb market in particular is critical due to its key role in providing balance to the UK domestic market. We will work in co-operation with the industry and partners to promote exports in new and emerging markets and seek access to new markets and for new exporting companies."

It said that a key focus would be on the Chinese market. Tom Hind said that the UK had already been successful in generating export sales of pork in China.

Chinese pork exports had been increasing year on year and AHDB had played an important role in this, alongside the British pig industry.

Not just limited to pork

But Mr Hind said that the opportunities for exports were not limited just to pork.

He said that AHDB had been working on a road map for exporting beef to China. There were also opportunities for processed and manufactured products.

"And the opportunities for dairy exports are very big in China," he said.

It is not yet known what the relationship between the UK and the EU will be following the country's exit from the European Union, but Tom Hind said that AHDB had drawn up its strategy based on a number of assumptions.

"One of those is that we will be outside the customs union and so we will be free to negotiate trade agreements with other parts of the world," he said.

This assumption was based both on what the Government had been saying and on its actions since the referendum was held in June, said Mr Hind.

'Better understanding' of trade

One of those actions was the creation of a new Department for International Trade headed by Liam Fox. The International Trade Secretary has said he would have a series of trade deals ready with other parts of the world once the UK leaves the EU.

Mr Hind said there would be no need for such a department if the country intended to remain within the customs union with external tariffs set centrally, although he stressed that this did not necessarily mean the UK leaving the EU single market.

Norway was a member of the single market as a member of the EEA but was able to negotiate other trade deals independently because it was not a member of the customs union, he said.

There has been speculation that the UK could seek to retain EEA membership.

Tom Hind said that part of the increased funding would go on analysis to better understand the implications of various trade agreements.

AHDB had already produced a series of studies on the implications of Brexit and more analysis would be needed to further understand what future plans may mean. But he said extra funds would also be switched to the direct work involved in increasing exports and opening new markets.

"It is important to find new markets, anyway," he said, "we already invest in exports but we are likely to invest a bit more."

Dairy was one sector in which export initiatives could make a difference, the sector had not traditionally been involved in exporting but there were opportunities to promote overseas sales.

'Creating a world–class farming industry'

AHDB's 2017-2020 strategy sets out a vision of "Creating a world–class food and farming industry inspired by and competing with the best."

CEO Jane King said that AHDB was uniquely placed to deliver a blend of research, knowledge exchange, skills development, market development and economic analysis across all its six levy-paying sectors.

Together, AHDB’s sectors represented a significant proportion of UK total agriculture and horticulture output, she said.

“Our new vision is of a world class food and farming industry inspired by and competing with the best. We have realigned all our activities with this in mind,” she said.

“To become world class, farmers and growers need to become more productive – not just in terms of the crops grown and livestock reared, but in the way inputs such as fuel, water and labour are used.

“There is a need to knit together the industry’s fragmented knowledge exchange landscape to deliver innovation and best practice. AHDB can be the lynchpin for this, positioning ourselves at the heart of all the good work going on and becoming the go-to KE (knowledge exchange) organisation. We are exploring how we can work better with agronomists, vets, universities and commercial companies to improve the knowledge exchange pipeline.

“We will also be looking to create a new farm excellence platform over the next three years, expanding our current network of monitor farms, focus farms and strategic potato farms across the country. This will put farmers and growers at the heart of innovation delivery on-farm and delivery of the right business skills.”

The four strategic priorities in AHDB's plan are: Inspiring British farming and growing to be more competitive and resilient; Accelerating innovation and productivity growth through coordinated R&D and KE; Helping the industry understand and deliver what consumers will trust and buy and delivering thought leadership and horizon scanning.