UK Growers Seek Views on ‘Outdated’ Compulsory Levy Body

A group of professional growers based in Lincolnshire is organising a ballot to obtain views on the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

The three growers collectively grow potatoes, vegetables and flowers across 2,025 ha (5,000 acres) of land, and 5.6 ha (14 acres) of glasshouses; together they employ c. 250 personnel and have a combined turnover of £20 million. They are balloting their fellow horticulturalists on their views of AHDB, and in particular whether they feel that this organisation should retain its legal powers to collect a compulsory levy-based on the turnover of their businesses.

Because horticulture is such a competitive industry, the most successful businesses conduct their own research to gain competitive advantage. However, they also have to pay AHDB to disseminate such information as widely as possible.

The ballot follows a Government call for views in 2018 which attracted response from less than 0.5 per cent of levy-payers. Despite such a low level of response, the majority of horticulture and potato growers felt ADHB was out of touch and the DEFRA review did not provide a mandate for the statutory levy to remain. Despite this, AHDB’s CEO Jane King proclaimed the results were, “A general endorsement for the continuation of the levy.”

Given this extremely low level of engagement, the growers believe the time is right to get a truly representative picture of how AHDB is viewed by horticultural levy-payers, which can be then presented to DEFRA.

Those behind the ballot are also disappointed with the National Farmers Union (NFU) who seem to be more supportive of AHDB than their own members, who’s views they have failed to prioritise on this occasion. The organisers are equally disappointed with AHDB’s failure to supply them with a complete list of around 4,000 levy payers, meaning that only 1,600 growers will automatically receive ballot papers. Those who don’t receive a ballot paper are urged to contact ahdbpetition@gmail.com and request one.

The growers behind the ballot are flower grower Simon Redden and vegetable and potato producers Peter Thorold and John Bratley. They want to make the voices of growers heard and believe that the AHDB structure is based on an outdated system which taxes growers but is unaccountable to them. Of particular concern is the fact that the compulsory levy fee is based on turnover, which can result in payments of tens of thousands of pound by large growers, with those growers who cannot pay subject to legal action, and potential criminal convictions.

Peter Thorold comments: “We believe that in the interests of democracy and openness AHDB should be releasing all levy-payer’s names directly to the company running the ballot in order for all voices to be heard through our ballot. Despite a Freedom of Information request, they have refused to do this.”

John Bratley explains: “We have been denied a ballot for the ten years that AHDB has been in existence, and following the government call for views, it will be at least another five years before one is held. With no representation on the Council, this undemocratic quango continues to impose itself on us without representation regardless of our wishes and needs.