Blog: Selling the positive story of our industry

Friday, 29 July 2022

James Taylor joined the Beef & Lamb sector council two years ago, just as covid hit the country. Here he tells us why he joined and what he wants to help achieve for the sector.

I farm with my father Andrew near Banbury, with 600 ewes, 80 cattle and some poultry. It’s obviously a challenging time, with so much change upon us, and I wanted to bring a tenant’s perspective to discussions at AHDB. I’ve gained some recent experience working on strategies and project evaluations and wanted to try and help ensure we can explain the outcomes AHDB are delivering for levy payers as clearly as possible.

It has taken a while to grasp the sheer breadth of activity AHDB is involved with. Before I joined I hadn’t realised just how reliant we are, as producers, on AHDB’s export work, as I had always assumed that there was more government resource working in this area. More generally I didn’t realise just how broad AHDB’s activities are, from genetics to education and market intelligence to project work, such as the Challenge Sheep project. I also hadn’t realised how carefully we have to consider targeting with our advertising and that just relying on the return of TV isn’t always the best way to go with so many other channels to consumers available.

The Shape the Future vote has given a clear steer on the work that levy payers want us to focus on now. The Sector Council has met twice to discuss the results, and these are being shaped into workstreams. I’m looking forward to communicating our targets to levy payers so we are accountable for what we deliver over the next two to three years.

I’m interested in all the workstreams! But so much of what we need to focus on comes under the broad heading of ‘reputation’, whether that’s environmental sustainability, maintaining and developing new markets, animal health and welfare or the ‘We Eat Balanced’ campaign. As a levy payer it feels great when we see a TV advert but, as good as they are, we need to be targeted and strategic and follow the evidence in terms of where we can achieve the best return for our investment.

There are many challenges facing our sector. There’s obviously a lot of noise about the environmental impact of red meat consumption. There’s plenty of evidence to show that our production methods are some of the most sustainable in the world and we need to challenge lazy narratives that imply all systems are the same. As AHDB we need to help equip levy payers to tell their story more effectively, such as the positive impact farmyard manure has on arable soil organic matter and resilience.

Environmentally it can also be a bit confusing as a producer. On our farm we manage some old meadows which have 135 grassland species present. Should environmental best practice always be to speed up beef finishing times, or do we allow for systems that protect local biodiversity and grow all protein on farm? We need to be able to measure our system’s overall carbon footprint and identify ways in which we can travel towards net zero, and AHDB need to be assisting producers in that journey.

We’re obviously a very diverse sector and we all have different experiences and constraints to our businesses. As tenants we often need to be risk averse and change can sometimes be slow and incremental. In our system we are gradually improving our beef and sheep genetics and work to make genetic improvement as accessible as possible to the mainstream is also obviously important.

I am passionate about education and love hosting school visits, which I really got into while I was working for LEAF. Educating the consumers of the future is something we all need to engage with, and again making sure our environmental messages are accurate will help with that.

Overall, though, our job as council members is to ensure that the priorities that levy payers have voted for are reflected in workstreams, that our intended outcomes are clearly communicated, so we can then all be accountable for their delivery. I’m looking forward to Levy Payers seeing AHDB’s workstream plans in the autumn.