Potatoes ballot request coincides with the launch of AHDB’s new strategy and programme for change

The call for a ballot on the continuation of the potatoes levy is timely as AHDB seeks open, honest and robust dialogue with the industry on its new strategy.

Potatoes sector board Interim Chair Alison Levett said she looked forward to having constructive conversations with grower and buyer levy payers about how the £5.8 million a year levy is invested to support the industry through the challenges of the next five years.

She also said AHDB was looking at alternative ways of calculating the potatoes levy, as it is currently based solely on planted area and does not take into account when crops are lost or destroyed. The new strategy will propose a new ‘claw back’ repayment mechanism for growers to claim in the event of crop loss due to floods, for example, so they are not disadvantaged.

The review of the levy calculation is part of a broader commitment to change to better deliver services to meet levy payers’ needs.

Alison said: “While we are confident we can demonstrate our investment of the levy has brought tangible benefits for individual growers and the industry as a whole, we fully recognise the need to be responsive to the significant challenges ahead.

“This is a time of momentous change and uncertainty for the industry, in terms of trade agreements, regulations regarding chemical inputs, forthcoming changes to farm payments and public goods. In developing the potato sector strategy, potato board members have emphasised the need for programmes of work to be future-focused and increasingly address environmental issues.

“We hope that potato levy payers will reflect on the unique and central role AHDB plays in solving issues that individual farmers, processors or a single sector potato body would not be able to fund.”

Alison cited the £3 million invested in potatoes storage research following the loss of CIPC, including a Storage Network offering free one-to-one advice. She also referenced AHDB’s yield-boosting and money-saving advances in soil health, fertiliser and water use, some of which were showcased during AHDB’s Agronomy Week (30 November – 4 December), when more than 1000 agronomists, growers and other industry stakeholders joined a series of webinars on important issues in contemporary agronomy.

AHDB’s market development team has worked to secure key exports markets for seed potatoes after EU exit, as well as increasing potatoes consumption with its More than a bit on the side campaign, highlighting the health benefits of potatoes. A new £150,000 campaign in February 2021 will promote baked potatoes, with targeted messaging on their nutritional benefits, budget-friendliness and convenience.

Alison’s comments come after growers Simon Redden, Peter Thorold and John Bratley delivered just under 200 requests for a ballot to AHDB’s headquarters at Stoneleigh Park today. Requests now need to be validated by AHDB to see if a formal ballot process needs to be triggered, with a threshold of 103 requests from businesses who have paid levy in the past 12 months.

If so, the ballot will be a simple yes/no vote on the continuation of the potatoes levy.

AHDB Chair Nicholas Saphir said: “The ballot is not a means for expressing discontent with the way levy is collected or spent or how AHDB operates, it is solely about whether AHDB will continue to deliver statutory levy-funded services and products to the potatoes sector or not.

“Lose it and we lose the ability to collectively invest in the collective challenges that lie ahead from climate change, including sprays, chemicals, IPM and zero carbon. Lose it and we lose the collective investment in R&D generally, storage and disease prevention. Finally we lose collective evidence that allows decisions to be made and productivity benchmarked.

“Discussions about our change programme, our package of activities and where the levy is best spent are part of our five commitments to levy payers and the feedback we’re seeking from industry on the new strategy. We are urging potatoes growers to get involved and voice their views.”

The new AHDB strategy was launched yesterday, visit ahdb.org.uk/strategy.

There will be a ‘town hall’ meeting about the strategy for the potatoes sector on 7 January 2021, followed by a series of events in February focusing on what AHDB is doing for each sub-sector of the industry, to book visit https://ahdb.org.uk/potatoes-town-hall

Picture caption: L-R Petitioners Simon Redden, Peter Thorold, John Bratley, with AHDB’s Rob Clayton and Rebecca Geraghty

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