The decision to hold a ‘yes or no’ vote on the future existence of AHDB Horticulture and the work it delivers on behalf of growers came after the organisation received valid requests for a ballot from more than 5% of horticulture levy payers.
The AHDB had already pledged to introduce a new strategy and communicate more effectively with levy payers on how their money was spent following strong views expressed by levy payers in response to a Government-led ‘Request for Views’ published earlier this year.
The board also committed to holding a regular ballot on the AHDB levy and how it is spent, a review of the levy system for potatoes and horticulture and a review of the organisation’s board and committee structure.
Chair Nicholas Saphir said at that time: “We have listened carefully to the views expressed by levy payers in response to the Request for Views, and we are now committed to some key reforms to ensure we are fit for purpose in the changing times British agriculture is facing.”
Levy payers, though, were unimpressed and at the end of September handed 107 formal requests for a ballot on the continuation of the AHDB to Ruth Ashfield, Strategy Director of AHDB Horticulture.
Growers behind the campaign say a poll of almost 2,000 horticulture and potato levy payers in July showed that 92% of growers felt current AHDB policies were of no, or marginal, benefit to their business, while 80% did not want to pay a statutory levy.
Vegetable grower and ballot co-organiser Peter Thorold said: “We have repeatedly tried to engage with senior representatives of our industry and politicians, but despite the fact that our ballot achieved a response rate above 33% – well above DEFRA’s own call for views – there has been little recognition of the depth of feeling that exists among growers towards this outdated and undemocratic tax on their businesses.
“Over the past six months AHDB have repeatedly said that if growers feel strongly enough about the levy, they should use the existing legal procedures to trigger a formal ballot on the continuation of a compulsory levy, so with the mandate that we received from our survey, that is what we have now done.”
Within days, the AHDB announced that it would ask an independent company to organise the vote, expected to begin in January, and would “invite and encourage” every levy payer to take part. Ministers will make a decision on the future of the levy but would not be bound by the result of the ballot, the board said.
Nicholas Saphir commented: “We welcome the opportunity for an open debate on the important role of AHDB and how it is the funding backbone of horticultural applied research and development to address crop protection, labour, resource use, and technical innovation.”