Almost two thirds of growers have said a resounding 'no' to the statutory levy on horticulture.
The AHDB Horticulture levy ballot closed last week and found that 61 per cent of respondents said that they do not want the levy to continue while 39 per cent want the levy.
Responding to the results, NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman, Ali Capper, said: “This vote demonstrates that many growers feel either disappointed or disengaged with how their levy is being spent.
"It will also be a disappointing result for those that see the importance in the principle of a statutory levy and the value that applied research and development can deliver for their businesses."
Voting analysis by value of levy paid, showed a yes vote of 57 per cent and a no vote of 43 per cent.
Ali said: “A number of businesses have come out in support of the statutory levy in the past few weeks, albeit with necessary reforms of AHDB. While the majority of levy payers voted to discontinue the levy, it is notable that when results are weighted by levy contribution there is a majority to continue the levy.
“This shows just how divided levy payers have become and makes it critically important that Ministers consider carefully how to respect all sides of the debate.
Simon Redden, John Bratley and Peter Thorold have become known as the AHDB Petitioners.
They are all based in South Lincolnshire and collectively grow potatoes, vegetables and flowers.
Simon said: “As the AHDB well knows the statute is quite clear and requires the ballot to be based on ‘one business, one vote’. Nearly two thirds (61 per cent) of qualifying levy-payers have decisively voted against the statutory levy.
“However, Mr Saphir (AHDB chair) now appears to be blatantly trying to change the rules of the ballot to suit his own interpretation on the basis of total levy paid.
"This is clearly a desperate and disgraceful attempt to influence ministers whilst trampling on the views of the two-thirds of levy-payers who have voted to get rid of this statutory levy.
"It lies outside the rules of the ballot and must not be allowed to prevail.
“Basing the result on the amount of levy paid, instead of one business, one vote, is a last-ditch attempt to save AHDB Horticulture.
"It is not democratic and can be compared to closing the gates on the third-class passengers on the Titanic – letting them drown in an attempt to save the first-class passengers who pay more.”
The petitioners say that these attempts to skew the result of the horticulture ballot also affect the current ballot on the continuation of the statutory levy for potatoes.
John Bratley points out that if Mr Saphir’s train of thought is taken to its logical conclusion, then three-quarters of potato levy payers (around 1,500 growers) will have the value of their votes queried by AHDB, who will claim that their payments are too low.
“This is appalling,” he said. “What value is there in any of the ballots of the future that he keeps promising us all if they keep trying to move the goalposts?”
The ballot will now be considered by Defra ministers to make a decision on the future of the levy.