Mike Sheldon, who will step down as AHDB Pork Sector Council chair at end of March, after seven years in the role, explains what the role has meant to him and lays down a challenge to his successor.
I will never tire of the pork sector; the pig industry is in my DNA. Yes, I may be calling time on my seven-year stint as Pork Sector Council Chair next month, but I want to say that it has been an absolute privilege to serve you.
I think we all know the AHDB has had its difficulties, but I am proud of the organisation and the way it has changed on my watch.
External pressures have not made it easy – the backdrop has included Brexit and Covid which affected labour and exports. And more recently, the war in Ukraine cut the pork sector off at the knees. If the price of feed doubles, then you are in real trouble. And we were. But we have emerged from that.
If I can lay a challenge for my successor, it is that confidence to invest and develop businesses needs building up.
It is gratifying when even the most hard-bitten pig farmers acknowledge where their levy is being spent, though everyone must be realistic in what AHDB can achieve.
We are an evidence and knowledge-based public body, not cheerleaders. Getting that balance between striving on behalf of your levy payers, but also telling it how it is, is tricky. A lot of what we do is necessarily behind the scenes, be it averting problems or informing government where our expertise is sought.
Because we take a levy, I was never going to be the most popular person in the room. I have been there to be shot at. But I was always encouraged when I reached those who perhaps had not been engaged in the past.
It happened during some of the recent discussions around ‘Funding Your Future’. Amongst the brickbats were constructive conversations about raising the levy. By the end, I felt more producers had a better understanding of AHDB’s purpose.
Change goes both ways and I confess, before we embarked on ‘Shape the Future’, I was sceptical about whether it would work. But to be able to express what we do under the three themes of marketing, exports, and reputation has been important.
These priorities need to be re-assessed regularly because time moves on, and what was true two years ago is not necessarily going to be true in the future. I never reached a point where I could sit back and say: ‘Mission accomplished’. But I am satisfied that I leave having made progress.
I would like to finish by asking something of you, perhaps. The Pork Sector Council really does drive our choices of where to invest the levy funds and it is crucial to continue to refresh the membership.
So, my advice to any levy payer is to get involved. Get involved in making those tough choices. It is not a particularly easy job, but it is very fulfilling.
I think the council is in pretty good shape now, but we need to ensure it remains well balanced in the future.