Open letter from new Pork sector council chair

Thursday, 13 June 2024

After taking over as our Pork sector council chair, Glen Nimmo has written an open letter to levy payers outlining how he plans to ensure their priorities are fulfilled by AHDB. Glen, who began his three-year tenure in April, also sets out below what he believes AHDB should be focusing on and how he plans to increase engagement with levy payers to reflect their needs.

Some of you may know that I recently took over the chair of the Pork sector council at AHDB. I am as aware as any that I have been an ‘unconventional’ appointment as chair, but having spent the past two months engaging with levy payers, I am confident I can help the sector council engage the executive at AHDB and ensure your priorities are fulfilled effectively and efficiently. After two years of restructuring, AHDB has emerged a leaner organisation with a renewed energy to improve outcomes for farmers and processors.

There is also an ongoing desire to increase engagement with levy payers. As a result, I intend to write to you after every sector council meeting to discuss current industry themes and the council’s approach to delivering a return for levy payers. I chaired my first sector council meeting last week.

I was lucky enough to get a chance to meet my sector council colleagues socially on the evening before the council meeting, which offered the opportunity to discuss industry issues and concerns in a less formal setting. This highlights the value of face-to-face communication, as context and nuance are fully incorporated into the discussion. As the only Scot in the group, I was fortunate we spent only a little time discussing the impending Euros football tournament. The English have certainly got themselves into a habit of getting to the business end of recent tournaments, and there is no reason why they cannot do it again this time. The Scottish football team, however, has no pedigree at all. The last Euros was the first time in 22 years it had qualified for a major tournament, and even the days where qualification was a regular occurrence and its supporters went into these events with genuine excitement, the subsequent performances were likely to generate tears of the wrong type. Scottish football fans easily handle the despair. It’s the hope that kills us.

There was something of that mood among my producer colleagues on the council. The industry is clearly in a much better place than the past few years, and margins are fairly buoyant. But there is no sign of that yet translating into a broad swathe of investment in growing herd numbers. In some cases, balance sheets are still being repaired, and many of those who do have surplus capital are diversifying into other areas. The psychological scarring caused by events since the pandemic is still ingrained. The sector appears unwilling yet to fall into anything as reckless as ‘hope’.

This context has been useful for me to clarify my own thoughts on the priorities AHDB should be focusing on. As a ‘development board’, its fundamental objective should be to help facilitate an industry backdrop that gives producers and processors the confidence to invest for the future. It should be a body that grows end-consumer demand for pork products, increases the routes to market for the industry and protects the integrity of the product with customers and governments, so the industry can grow its scale and profitability. This last point is our raison d’être.

Across each of these objectives, activity in AHDB is intensifying. In consumer marketing, this year will see a 50% increase in the number of focused campaigns to promote British pork compared to last year. With regard to routes to market, Vietnam is now accessible for those looking to export. As I write this letter, we are preparing to host a significant overseas contingent (including an important Chinese delegation) at the red meat export conference in London.

Elsewhere, we continue to increase our efforts to help the sector prepare for an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) should it emerge. The sector council is unanimous that it represents the single-largest risk to the short-term viability of the industry, and is pushing AHDB to redouble its efforts to ensure levy payer awareness of the resources it has available is as high as it can be. I know from personal experience that crisis management planning and business continuity arrangements are difficult to prioritise when ‘the day job’ demands so much of our time. But the groundwork laid down now to prepare for the day you suspect ASF in your facility will be invaluable should disaster strike. The ASF workshops at the recent Pig & Poultry Fair highlighted a general underappreciation of the stringent movement restrictions that will be placed on the immediate area of any suspected or confirmed case of ASF. Understanding the protocols associated with a suspected case and building contingency plans is pivotal to managing the situation effectively.

AHDB has templates for these plans – they do not need to be written from scratch – and support is available to help build out your planning actions. Please use them. A number of industry workshops are also being arranged by AHDB in conjunction with the NPA. I hope that you never have to use anything from them, but praying for the best is rarely a productive strategy. Please get in touch with AHDB for more details.

There is significant change taking place across the whole of AHDB, not just in the Pork sector. A new CEO is bringing clear strategic focus and building an operating framework which will empower many more people to create value for levy payers. Crucially, this not only covers where we invest your resources but how we do it. There is a reinforced emphasis on internal efficiency and demonstrating progress to the levy payer. However, there is also leadership on initiatives with the potential to radically improve levy payers’ operating models, even if they may take some time to bring to fruition. The work being done on environmental baselining and the management of environmental data offer the prospect of improving measurement, reducing the time and cost of reporting, and accessing cheaper, sustainability-linked finance.

Personally, I remain very much in listening mode. I continue to look forward to meeting as many levy payers as possible over the summer. I might even want to talk about the football…

Glen Nimmo
AHDB Pork Council Sector Chair

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