Formal requests from 107 growers for an official ballot on the continuation of the horticulture R&D levy were delivered to AHDB’s Stoneleigh headquarters on September 29 by the three Lincolnshire growers – the AHDB Petitioners – who have been campaigning for the vote.
AHDB is required to hold a ballot if it receives requests from 5% of levy payers in a sector – which in horticulture would currently be 67.
AHDB will validate that enough requests have come from growers who have paid the levy within the previous 12 months before it initiates a ballot, with an independent company to administer it.
AHDB Horticulture strategy director Ruth Ashfield said the organisation ‘welcomed the opportunity for an open debate’ on the the levy’s role. “However, we need to be clear this ballot is about the future of AHDB Horticulture [and] whether [it] will continue to provide a statutory levy-funded service to growers or not,” she said. “That is the only question allowed under current regulations.”
She made clear that the ballot would not include the various proposals for reform that AHDB announced last month (see The Vegetable Farmer and Commercial Greenhouse Grower October editions for more details). “All other discussions, like how we can get growers more involved or whether there could be a voluntary levy or a vote every five years on what we do, form no part of this discussion,” she said.
The AHDB Petitioners’ survey in July, of 2,000 horticulture and potato levy-paying growers, generated a 33% response, in which 80% were against a statutory levy.
Petitioner and vegetable grower Peter Thorold said: “There has been little recognition of the depth of feeling that exists among growers towards this outdated and undemocratic tax on their businesses. AHDB has repeatedly said that if growers feel strongly enough they should use the existing procedures to trigger a formal ballot, so that is what we have now done. We fully expect a fairly conducted ballot to endorse our findings.”
Under current rules agriculture ministers are not bound by the results of an official ballot but petitioner and flower grower Simon Redden said it would be ‘inconceivable’ that the government “would act in an undemocratic manner against the wishes of the most commercially exposed sector of British farming.”
Picture caption: L-R: AHDB Horticulture’s Ruth Ashfield with growers Simon Redden, Peter Thorold and John Bratley.