Growers vote against horticulture levy

Over 60% of growers have voted for the AHDB Horticulture levy to be scrapped in a ballot on the statutory R&D organisation’s future.

Individual votes in the ballot was 61% voting for a no and 39% voting yes, with a turnout of 69%.

But, voting analysis by UK Engage according to the value of levy paid, showed a reverse picture of 57% ‘yes’ votes versus 43% ‘no’ votes. This was calculated by combining the levy contributions of all the ‘yes’ voters and comparing that total with the combined payments of ‘no’ voters.

The ballot was conducted by election services provider UK Engage on the statutory basis of ‘one levy payer, one vote’. It is now up to Defra and the devolved administrations to decide how they act on the result.

Growers in the three highest levy brackets, above £20,000 a year, voted in favour of retaining the AHDB. Growers in the £20-50,000 a year bracket voted 71%‘yes’, while the £50,000-£100,000 segment was 57% ‘yes’. All three votes cast by companies paying more than £100,000 were in favour of maintaining the levy, showing a mixed reaction. Growers in the lower brackets largely voted to get rid of the payments. In the £0-£5,000 bracket the ‘no’ vote was 64% versus 36% ‘yes’; the £5,000-£10,000 band was 62% ‘no’; and the £10,000-£20,000 segment was 54% ‘no’.

The process will now inform ministers how the industry feels about the value of a statutory levy.

AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir said: “The voting information reported by UK Engage shows different sentiment across different crop sectors and size of business – it is really a very complex picture. It is now down to ministers to weigh up all the various factors about GB horticulture and make a decision on the future role of a horticulture levy.”

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.

“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. It is important that the business innovation that comes from research and development programmes and the business-critical work on plant protection products are not removed where there remains a need. While ministers are not bound by the vote, I would urge them to engage carefully with levy payers before reaching a decision on the next steps.”

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