The ballot on continuation of the AHDB Potatoes levy saw more than 66 per cent of participants vote against. Alice Dyer and Marianne Curtis gauge reaction.
Against levy continuation
Lancashire grower, Neil Webster who voted to ditch the levy, says this was down to the lack of support following the impact coronavirus has had on his business.
“Our turnover is quarter what is was the year before due to the pandemic. What swayed me was the lack of support we have had from [AHDB Potatoes]. I have asked about a reduction in levy fees due to unharvested crops but there has been nothing.
“We grow a lot of chipping and processing potatoes and we are Five Guys’ [the fast-food chain] biggest UK grower so that has had a massive impact on us. During the first lockdown we still had crop from 2019 which was due to move in the spring and it had to be dumped because of the lockdown. They did not do any kind of marketing to try and push excess product – they have just gone to ground.
“In 2019 we lost 70 acres of crop due to flooding, but we had to pay £1,200 worth of levy [from that area alone] and did not get a penny from the crop.
“I do not understand why we pay a hectare charge and then packers and traders also have to pay. There is no leeway on the hectarage.
“A lot of the storage information we get now comes from Holland, not through the board and I feel like it has really lost its value.”
This year Mr Webster has reduced his potato area by 30 per cent. “The market is awful and we simply cannot afford to grow as many,” he says.
For levy continuation
Although he voted to continue with the levy, Tony Bambridge of B and C Farming, Norfolk, who grows 140 hectares of ware potatoes and 180ha of seed potatoes says he can understand why many growers voted to scrap it and that the AHDB should have listened more. “The challenges the industry is facing have not declined and the ability to have a statutory levy where everyone contributes to finding solutions is a very valuable thing. “I’m very clear that it should be a statutory levy for the potato industry, controlled by elected potato growers who control the expenditure, who they employ and what work is commissioned. “We ended up with AHDB where representatives of the potato industry were merely used in a consultancy capacity. There was a central board and executive who controlled the expenditure, decided who was going to be employed, decided what work was commissioned and forgot to listen to the people who pay the money.” Mr Bambridge is concerned that without a statutory levy, applied research will suffer. “We need to work harder at IPM but in order to tease out how to do it best we need applied research and it is unlikely this will be done once we lose the levy board funding. There are not really any other large pots of money that are going to be spent on applied research.” Norfolk-based potato grower Mark Means, who grows 120ha for the packing and chipping markets voted to continue with the levy and questions what comes next. “The key bit for me is what we have got afterwards. Nothing – a lack of independent research. Who will do long term research on storage and nematicides?” He also mourns the loss of independent pricing information. “We won’t get that same point of view. AHDB did need a shake up but did it need to be killed off – no.” Mr Means says he likes research and going to technical events. He also took part in benchmarking and changed his stores dramatically after a review by AHDB. “DMN may come in shortly – will we rely on the manufacturer for information or information from abroad about what works best and how? Why not our own science?”