UK potato growers could be given the chance to vote on whether they want the statutory AHDB levy to continue, if enough producers back a new campaign.
A group of disillusioned English vegetable growers who triggered the forthcoming ballot on the future of the horticulture levy have revealed they are now collating requests for a similar ballot on the potato levy.
The growers say they expect to hand the necessary number of completed requests to AHDB in the next few weeks.
One of the growers, John Bratley, said: “Our initial ballot (of horticulture producers) in July also highlighted a significant level of discontent with AHDB among potato growers.
“In now calling for their requests for a formal ballot on the continuation of a statutory levy we are ensuring that their voices are heard, too.”
AHDB chairman Nicholas Saphir said he was aware of the move.
However, the Scottish farmers’ union appeared to pour cold water on the move.
Responding to the news, NFU Scotland policy manager Peter Loggie said that when union members were last consulted on the future of the AHDB, growers had called for the various sector boards operating in Scotland to adapt but all sectors supported the continuation of the AHDB, funded by compulsory levy.
However, he added: “One of the questions that was asked at that last consultation was whether there should be scheduled industry votes, by sector, on continuation of the levy for their sectors. Our members did support that, and votes have taken place in the past.
“When asked to vote before, Scottish growers supported continuation of the levy board – and that was the case for potatoes.”
Meanwhile, the petitioners are concerned that the horticulture ballot could disenfranchise some growers because it is not being held until next year.
Spalding-based flower grower and co-organiser of the campaign, Simon Redden, said: “AHDB has yet to make public who will be eligible to vote.
“To limit voting to growers who have paid a levy in the 12 months immediately prior to the vote would be grossly unfair given the unprecedented hardships that growers are currently experiencing; all growers registered with the AHDB up until the time of the Defra review in 2018 should be eligible to vote.
“We hope that delaying the ballot from October 2020 to January 2021 will not be used as an excuse to deny these growers a vote in the ballot. We want to know whether sectors of horticulture where AHDB has granted growers a deferral on their payments will receive a vote or not.”
Nicholas Saphir said all horticulture levy payers would receive a letter with details on the eligibility to vote in the forthcoming ballot.
The legislation under which AHDB operates is totally clear on this – a business must have made a levy payment within the previous 12 months from the closing date of the ballot.
He added: “Any levy payer business which has agreed a deferred payment plan with AHDB based on evidence of hardship, and therefore may not have made a payment within the qualifying 12-month period, will be offered the chance to make a nominal £50 levy payment to ensure they have the legal right to vote.”