Our Blog

As an objective supporter of UK agriculture and horticulture and an industry leader, AHDB has views on industry issues and current and future developments. Our blog features updates and commentary from senior figures at AHDB on industry-wide talking points, ranging from exports to education, climate change to innovation, soils to sustainable production. The blog also offers an insight into how AHDB is tackling these key issues.

Access our blog archive here.

Friday 6 May 2016

jStarting our journey to better manage volatility

Jack Watts, Lead Analyst for Cereal & Oilseeds

As you may well have seen in the industry media, Total Income From Farming (TIFF) was down some 29% in 2015 — highlighting just how volatile income is for our farmer levy payers. Despite the jaw dropping headlines, this won’t come as news to the industry who have been battling with volatile prices and costs for a number of years now and has become an extremely challenging fact of life.

The hardest hit are likely to be those that have borrowed money to finance expansion plans. This immediately sets off alarm bells in my mind as volatility looks to be the biggest threat to progressive and ambitious farmers that want to compete on a world stage. Unmanaged, this volatility could well deter even the most optimistic investors — limiting investment and slowing productivity gains.


As a result and buoyed more recently from the results of the levy payer survey, AHDB has embarked on industry leadership in the area. We started back in January by launching the concept of a Volatility Forum — to maintain a long-term focus and knowledge sharing. At the launch we issued a call to action to the industry as we were looking for ambitious and skilled individuals to help us drive this initiative. We had a fantastic response and have now formed the main steering group, chaired by Gwyn Jones — Chair of AHDB Dairy — and some key names from the industry, such as Allan Wilkinson from HSBC. This is all being done on a voluntary basis so we have a huge commitment of in kind to help lead the industry through this issue.

We conveyed the first conference call gathering of the group in mid-April and I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer level of ambition and long-term focus the group had.

In terms of next steps, we are currently finalising our latest submission into the EU’s Agricultural Markets Task Force (AMTF) on the area of futures markets. For a number of years there has been a huge amount of industry rhetoric around the area and using our AMTF submission as a spring-board we have the opportunity to set out the realities. If futures are to become a more useful tool then we’d need to see major culture change across supply chains, policy to act as a catalyst and much more transparent data.


We’ll be bringing the group together again in July and will start looking at some meaty strategic questions, such as:

  • How do we put a culture of risk management at the centre stage of farm businesses?
  • In the build up to the next round of CAP reform how can the post 2020 policy better help farmers manage volatility?
  • Who are the best businesses at managing volatility and what do they do?
  • What do other industries do and what can we learn from them?
  • How can we capture and cultivate innovations for solutions in the academic and industry arenas?

Finally, many thanks to those of you who have provided constructive feedback — it has been really useful stuff!


Friday 20 November 2015

HannahWelcome to SPot (aka the Strategic Potato Farm)

Hannah Goodwin of AHDB Potatoes gives us the tour of a project designed to create exciting opportunities for technical demonstrations.

Strategic Potato Farm (aka SPot) is an all-new initiative for AHDB Potatoes which aims to offer a field-scale demonstration of the latest AHDB-funded, independent, agronomic innovations and 'evidenced best practice' in a commercial farm environment.

The concept is to take a wide range of developments from our (or associated) R&I and implement them with the assistance of a partner grower in a fully commercial situation, where the benefits can be demonstrated to a wide audience.

The project is based on the premise that growers and their advisors appreciate field-based demonstrations, and experience shows that these often result in the best grower feedback received by AHDB Potatoes.

Father SonWe hope to give growers the confidence they need to try something new by seeing it for themselves, live, in the field.

The first SPot farm is based in Staffordshire, hosted by James Daw and his son Sam. This year (covering the 2015-16 growing season) was year one of what is envisaged to be a three year project.

The SPot farm has been open regularly throughout the season and we have run a range of demonstration activities, including:

  • Farm walks, timed at post-emergence, during full canopy and at crop senescence
  • Annual Open day
  • Bespoke visits for grower groups and supply chain
  • Video outputs
  • Social media campaign and a blog
  • Meetings and workshops including an upcoming winter event on 3 December.

So far, the responses from growers have been very encouraging. We’ve had over 4,800 views on the blog, in excess of 400 visitors to the site across the season and interest from all corners of the industry.

Mark Rennie, a grower, said: “If you don’t see it in practice, working, it is difficult to adjust your own stuff, so I think coming down here and seeing how they’ve done it here on a real farm gives you confidence to go home and try the practices yourself.”

“It is good to learn things on the ground practically and see things in front of your eyes in the field rather than ‘death by a Powerpoint’,” said Andrew Wilson, a grower.

Factual, evidence-based advice, information and activity is core to what we do at AHDB Potatoes. At the Strategic Potato Farm we are up scaling the research work we fund to commercial, field-level demonstrations. Based on the feedback we have received we intend to expand the programme into the East and Scotland for the 2016 season. At each SPot farm the areas of work will be determined by the steering group. These areas will change from year to year as the location of the site and issues it raises changes with the rotation.

FieldAll of this activity is aimed at helping our levy payers take the latest thinking and industry developments home to their own businesses enterprise. This season, we have been examiningthe latest thinking on soil management and cultivation practices; crop nutrient planning, seed rates, the use of precision, practices to limit in-field greening, irrigation scheduling and managing crop variability and water run-off.

To accompany an array of in-field discussion forums and events, we are producing a suite of technical summary videos as well as a ‘season one overview’ video.  The first technical video to be published will be on ’Irrigation scheduling’; look out for news of it on our blog. Our website also is a good place to find out details of our upcoming winter events.

As the SPot farm attendees themselves say, this delivery of technical expertise is important because:

“It’s absolutely vital as a potato grower to stay up to date; if you don’t, you’re going to be out of business, basically,” said grower Alex Godfrey.

"There are fewer and fewer potato growers around year by year, and it is the ones who are at the forefront and are the most advanced growers are the ones who will still be in it in ten, fifteen years’ time.”


Thursday 8 October 2015


Red meat in the diet: what you need to know

Head of Communications for AHDB Beef & Lamb James Wilde sets the record straight on the media's reporting on red meat and health.

Very few weeks go by without there being something in the media about red meat and health. Often it is positive, but just as often – sometimes the next day – there can be a story giving the opposite message. Whether it is the Mediterranean diet, red meat and cancer, red meat as a source of protein, or red meat and diabetes, the issues seem endless – and the end message to the consumer is confused.

Separating fact from fiction is the challenge and if we, as an industry, do not work hard to ensure the facts are there for people to make informed choices about what they eat, it does nothing to help maintain the meat eating habit which endures still among 97 per cent of the population.

AHDB has a dedicated meat and health programme split into two arms, with Meat Matters focused on consumer messaging, and a dedicated meat and health resource for healthcare professionals and journalists. The aim is to ensure that evidence-based information about red meat and its nutritional benefits are widely available.

We have produced factsheets on a range of issues that cover everything from cancer to diabetes to weight management, protein and minerals. They are all evidence-based, fully referenced with sources for the data, something rarely seen in anti-meat scare stories in the media.

Of course the challenge to us by anti-meat lobbyists is: well, you would say that wouldn’t you? (As would they about non-meat diets.) However, we believe there should be a balanced, properly informed debate on issues around consumption of red meat so people can make their own choices, and our work seeks to provide that balance.

It is always great though when third party advocates champion the importance of red meat in the diet, just as Zanna Van Dijk, a personal trainer and fitness guru with a celebrity client list, did it he Daily Mail last week. She highlighted the importance of red meat as a source of iron to help cut fatigue. This was supported by Dr Carrie Ruxton, a nutritionist and member of the Meat Advisory Panel, which is supported by AHDB red meat divisions.

beefHowever, it remains difficult to get clear, evidence-based messaging on red meat out in the mainstream media. This will inevitably lead to more stories in the coming weeks, months and years urging people to cut red meat intake. So here are some key points to remember:

  • Levels of red meat consumption in the UK remain within the recommended intake guidelines
  • Red meat is a significant source of vitamins and minerals, including B12, which is not found naturally in foods of plant origin
  • Beef and lamb are rich sources of protein, which helps build and maintain muscles.
  • Red meat has a role to play in the diet at every stage of life.

At the end of the day, lean, fresh red meat enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet is something everyone can enjoy, even vegetarians after a few drinks, according to a recent survey, though it suggests they tend to skip the lean and fresh part!

To find out more, check out our Mind the Knowledge Gap report and the paper Red Meat in the Diet.


Wednesday 24 February 2015

Jeremy GarlickRiding the Waves


Consumer and shopper insight expert Jeremy Garlick on the tough environment facing the grocery retail market.

The UK food industry feels like a very challenging place to be right now, with seismic changes long and short term. How can organisations compete and win as these changes play out?

Many in our industry will say that life now feels significantly tougher than in the years following 2008. Why is this? Well, there is a huge amount of change that we are all adjusting to.

First there are long term changes in how the nation lives and eats. We have an ageing population, eating out far more than 20 years ago, looking for foods that are quicker to prepare in home, and increasingly health aware.

Then we have recent changes in the Grocery Retail market. Online and convenience store shopping is growing at the expense of bigger supermarkets, but these channels are less profitable, meaning less profit to share in the supply chain. At the same time, Discounters have re-set consumer expectation of value for money. Again, squeezing profit for the industry.

As a result, we are seeing low or no sales growth in grocery retail, especially for the Big 4. And the pressure on the Big 4 is shared by their suppliers, who have become used to annual growth as the norm.

What marks out the organisations that manage to thrive in these choppy waters? Above all, they have agility.

The agility to bring new products to market that chime with the new ways of living and eating. 

The agility to find growth in previously less attractive or less obvious channels. This means Foodservice, Discounters, “emerging food” retailers, international.

The agility to do more for less with the Big 4. Providing advice on how to win in categories in the new world.  Providing the right solutions for smaller stores and online as well as big stores. Doing all this AND fiercely attacking costs, to help in the battle against the Discounters. 

It isn’t easy, but there are organisations staying afloat, and even thriving. Some of them are small – all of them are agile. It’s the old story of following the consumer and shopper, but what is new is the pace of change.

Jeremy Garlick

Partner at Insight Tractionwww.insight-traction.com

Friday 15 August 2014

Tony Goodger

What food legacy can there be from London 2012?


Foodservice expert Tony Goodger on opportunities for UK agriculture in the Government's new plan for public procurement of food.

Barely a week goes by without there being some story or other in the media about the state of the UK’s public services, often related to the quality of food being served in hospitals, schools and the like.

Successive Governments have recognised the central role that good food plays in the wellbeing and health of those being fed from the public purse. A number of initiatives have been tried but these have tended to fall by the wayside, either as a result of a lack of will on the part of procurement managers to incorporate what is a voluntary scheme into their purchasing or due to pressure from budget holders to always purchase the cheapest option.

But probably the biggest stumbling blocks have been the lack of a clear definition as to what is good food and also there never being an opportunity to prove what could be achieved were there a willingness on the part of all links in the supply chain.

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games showcased this country to the world and maybe more importantly for levy payers, showcased their produce to the catering industry tasked with the largest peacetime feeding exercise in our history.

London 2012 Food Vision provided a specification and audit process which has now been taken forward by the team at Defra into a new legacy-based set of mandatory standards for food served in Whitehall and central Government Departments, such as the Ministry of Defence and Her Majesty’s Prison Service. Additionally, the standards are open for use by the NHS, school meals and social services, as well as contract caterers providing services for the public sector.

Next month will see the launch of “A Plan for Public Procurement: Food and Catering services.” Many will ask why this new initiative will work where others have failed and how, as a levy payer, might I benefit when in the past this market has been difficult to understand and access.

The plan firstly removes the emphasis from being on the cost of the food purchased and instead, through a balanced scorecard approach, requires procurement managers to attribute weighting to a list of considerations. These are based on ‘Quality and Value’ and sit alongside the food’s specification. They are:

  • Production - Supply chain management, animal welfare, environment and variety and seasonality
  • Health & Wellbeing - Nutrition, food safety and hygiene, plus authenticity and traceability
  • Resource Efficiency - Energy, water and waste
  • Socio-Economic - Fair and ethical trade, equality and diversity, inclusion of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), local and cultural engagement and employment and skills
  • Quality of Service - Food quality and customer satisfaction
  • Cost

So, with the exception of cost, when set over a 12-month period, all of the other ‘Quality and Value’ requirements are features of the domestic supply chain and many are encompassed by the assurance schemes to which levy payers subscribe, such as Red Tractor, Freedom Food, Organic Farmers & Growers and LEAF. All, therefore, deliver a benefit to the procuring organisation, on which they will be measured and be required to report.

Of course, these requirements are all well and good but if procurement managers simply don’t know where to buy levy payers’ produce they will quickly return to their established supply chains.

The route to the public sector market is either through direct sales or via wholesale distributors and all links in the supply chain are now invited to come together on one supply portal managed by the Cabinet Office and accessed via https://sid4gov.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/gbfood.

There is a will on the part of the Government to deliver better food in the public sector. Procurement managers have been instructed to improve the quality and value of the food they buy and now it is our turn, just as with London 2012, to show that UK Agriculture is a best supply partner for our troops, school children, hospital patients and, yes, our inmates and our civil servants!

Tony Goodger

Foodservice Sector Manager for AHDB’s Pork division


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