Defra consultation leads to more uncertainty

The AHDB Petitioners welcome the Government’s response to the consultation confirming that the potato and horticulture sectors levies will be lifted. However, as predicted, engagement levels with farmers and growers have been abysmal, with just 0.25% of eligible levy payers responding1, half the number who responded in 2018.

L-R: John Bratley, Peter Thorold & Simon Redden

The campaigners described the response to the Defra-led consultation as ‘abysmal’, with only 120 (10%) levy payers from the horticulture sector and 33 (2%) from the potatoes sector bothering to respond. Even Defra was careful to point out that ‘Public consultations are not necessarily representative of the wider population (in this case of all levy payers)’.


News that Defra is recommending a zero-rated levy from 1 April 2022 is also welcome, as the legal process to formally end the levy may take a few months. The response to the news that the potato and horticulture sectors will remain in scope of the AHDB Order is more guarded.


We recognise that there were a range of views expressed about horticultural R&D and Defra believes that there may be demand for some people to use the services of AHDB on a voluntary basis. Given that AHDB has already disbanded its horticultural and potatoes infrastructure, this seems unlikely, but we support the principle that growers can choose where to spend their own money on R&D.


“Although Defra commented that ‘many growers from horticulture subsectors who responded to the consultation said they want a statutory subsector levy to continue,’ this is still a minority view from just 120 respondents,” stressed Lincolnshire flower grower Simon Redden. “It is wrong for the NFU to interpret this consultation as meaningful, and any attempts to allow statutory levies to creep back in will be vigorously opposed.”


The campaigners also said it was disappointing, but not surprising, that Defra stressed that, ‘Public sector funding through the farm budget in England will not pay for research or other actions that were, or could reasonably be expected to be, funded through levy investment.’ At a time when the world is facing a food crisis it is regrettable that this government will fund tree planting and re-wilding but will not help improve the efficiency of healthy and sustainable food production.


The majority of growers will now welcome the chance to plan their future business activities, including R&D, without the unnecessary and unhelpful tax burden of the AHDB levy, especially in these uncertain times.