Following their calls for growers to get involved in the consultation on the future of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, a group of growers has launched a campaign calling for the AHDB levy to be optional.
The review closed on 9th November, but a spokesman for the group said, “Due to a lack of effort by the AHDB, there was a lack of knowledge about the review amongst growers. AHDB are keen to contact growers when it suits them; however, they are less keen to write to the levy payers informing them about a fundamental review. The NFU could also have been more proactive in informing growers about the importance of the review.”
He said that telephoning local growers showed that “hardly any levy payers knew of the AHDB levy review,” a situation which was common across a range of business including flower growers, large area vegetable producers and potato growers. Following discussions, a number of growers have come together to lobby for a voluntary levy, which was one of the options proposed in the review.
“90 per cent of the growers we have contacted have agreed that the levy should be voluntary,” continued the spokesman. “This would mean that if your business doesn’t benefit you would not have to pay. Currently the levy is a statutory one and when growers are unable to pay, they are threatened with court action and bailiffs are sent in. The levy of support we have had demonstrates how unpopular and costly the AHDB is and the poor value for money that it gives the growers whose money they collect.”
The group is also unhappy with the strategic direction and AHDB’s ambitions to increase growers’ efficiency. “The AHDB Strategy for the Future suggests that they don’t realise the cutting-edge production that is already in place,” said the spokesman. “Economics dictate the margins that both large and small growers receive, as you have hundreds of growers selling to a few nationwide retailers and processors who are in an unremitting battle with each other. Despite their technical abilities, investing huge amounts of money into their businesses does not guarantee success for growers and margins are continually eroded – undermining everything we are trying to do to protect our businesses and to inspire the next generation.”
He also pointed out that due to the nature of commercial horticulture, many businesses commission their own research in order to gain a competitive advantage, and that AHDB’s knowledge transfer activities work against this. “Over the next few years in order to cope with the results of Brexit, it is crucial that businesses are sustainable, lean and flexible and have contingency in their budgets. This means not having to pay a statutory levy to AHDB and we hope that other growers, particularly those who were in the dark about the review, will respond to our petition with a resounding ‘yes,’ by e-mailing us at; AHDBpetition@gmail.com.”
New AHDB Board Member and Horticulture Chair, Hayley Campbell-Gibbons said that there had been a “healthy level of response, especially from growers” to the government’s open review of AHDB, adding; “It’ll be interesting to see how many growers favour a voluntary levy over a statutory one. A voluntary levy would certainly focus the mind, although it could create a short-term culture and mind-set in what is a long-term industry.”
Campbell-Gibbons said she wanted to understand what growers value about AHDB, but also reflect on the things that might require new focus or which need to stop or change. “It’s no secret that there are a range of views on AHDB’s role and performance, and speaking to those who get involved with AHDB, it delivers enormous benefits,” she added. “But, perception is reality, and AHDB perhaps can be bolder in communicating the benefits and spreading the word. However, even in the few weeks I’ve been involved with the organisation, I can tell you there is no complacency.
“In my role as a board member and chair I want to ensure that everything AHDB does and communicates addresses the ‘So what?’ factor. From AHDB’s EAMU work on plant protection authorisations, to our flagship SCEPTREplus programme, our strategic farms and the exciting new work on labour as part of our SmartHort campaign, we need to show growers that they are getting bang for their buck.”
She acknowledged that AHDB needs to keep pace with the rate and scale of change in the industry, something that she believes makes AHDB’s role in “accelerating the development and adoption of new research and technology” more important than ever before in order to “give British horticulture a competitive edge.”
Campbell-Gibbons concluded that she didn’t want the industry to see the closing of the review as the end of the conversation on AHDB’s work, telling growers: “It’s your levy body and as your AHDB representative the more you communicate with me, and vice versa, the more we’ll both benefit. Over the coming months I will be considering and acting on the responses, and be out and about to hear your views and share our forward plans. I look forward to working with you.”