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AHDB Pork ballot likely 'within two to three years'

8th Apr 2021 / By Alistair Driver

A ballot on the future of the AHDB pork levy is likely at some point over the next two to three years, although there has been no immediate call for one, according to AHDB’s pork strategy director Angela Christison.

AHDB pork logoThe future of AHDB’s six levy boards is under the spotlight after the announcement of some ‘key reforms’ last year, including giving levy payers a ballot on the future of their sector boards.

Ballots have already taken place on the horticulture and potato levies, triggered by requests from levy payers. In both cases, levy payers voted decisively to end the levy, based on one levy payer, one vote.

Defra Ministers will have the final say in what happens, although Defra Secretary George Eustice has said the Department will respect the views of levy payers.

The implications for AHDB Pork were discussed at the latest meeting of the NPA’s Pig Industry Group in March.

Angela ChristisonMs Christison confirmed that there had not been any requests for a ballot in the pig sector, but said there was a commitment in the AHDB strategy document for a ballot to be held for every sector. AHDB’s chief executive Nicholas Saphir has stated that these are likely to take place in the next two to three years, although one could be triggered at any time, if sufficient numbers of levy payers request one.  It requires 5% of levy payers to request a ballot for it to take place.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies asked whether there would be any impact of the horticulture and potato ballot results, depending on the final decision, on the ability of AHDB to be able to function properly.

Ms Christison said AHDB was still waiting for Ministers to decide, but stressed that each sector collects levy for the sole use of that sector.

“We have reserves in each, so if an event like this happens there is the ability for each sector to look after their own costs without it affecting other sectors. That will have to be worked through depending on the decisions by Ministers,” she said.

Levy holiday?

She was also asked whether, given the difficult situation the pig sector has found itself in, there was an option for a ‘levy holiday’ for a set period of time, particularly if the Government was not forthcoming with support, as requested by NPA. In this case, AHDB reserves would be used to fund ongoing projects.

Mrs Christison said a levy holiday was discussed at the last AHDB Board meeting and the board recognised the difficult circumstances of recent weeks, affecting a lot of producers and some ‘really hard’.

New NPA chairman Rob Mutimer, who sits on the AHDB Board, said a levy holiday would not be a quick fix, as it would only happen at the discretion of Ministers, and was therefore likely to be a lengthy process. The Board had, nonetheless, agreed to explore whether it would be an option in future.

He said there was no overwhelming support within the board for a levy holiday as some people on it were keen for AHDB to push ahead with its current programme, including getting exports moving and increasing the marketing budget.

Also at the PIG meeting

PIG meeting March

The new PIG met online for the first time since the NPA elections on March 23. Key points  include: 

  • Midlands producer Sam Godfrey was elected to chair the group, with Oli Bown, from Thames Valley Cambac, elected as vice chair.
  • After the PIG meeting, the NPA Board met and Rob Mutimer was elected as the new NPA chairman, with Yorkshire producer Phil Stephenson and Hugh Crabtree, from Farmex, elected as vice chairs.
  • The group discussed the current industry situation, including an update from Zoe on the Defra roundtable, involving producers, processors and retailers, at which the retailers said they would be happy to sell more British pork. Since then, only Morrison’s delivered by cutting the price on pork products on sale, while retaining the producer price. PIG also received an update on the NPA’s media campaign highlighting the plight of the industry, which has generated publicity on numerous fronts.
  • Zoe updated PIG on the NPA’s submission to Defra for a £3.2 million COVID support package to reflect the financial impact on producers from overweight pigs, resulting from the backlog. This is alongside a request for support from pork processors in recognition of the cost of lost China exports from COVID-affected plants. This follows COVID support packages announced for pig producers in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • The NPA’s Charlie Dewhirst updated the group on the search for new Border Control Posts at EU ports to enable the export of live breeding pigs to resume. A possible site has been found inland near Calais, although it still needs approval from the French authorities and Brussels. Other options include the Hook of Holland and Zeebrugge. However, none of the facilities have yet been constructed, so it is likely to be some time before exports can resume.
  • The UK Government is financially backing two BCPs – one at Sevington, which will serve the Eurotunnel and the second near Dover. In Wales a suitable site has been identified at Hollyhead and another is being sought for Fishguard. 
  • The group also discussed the future of farrowing – a full summary of that discussion can be found in the April issue of Pig World.