A guarantee by Environment Secretary George Eustice that the industry’s decisive vote to end the compulsory AHDB horticulture levy will be respected has been welcomed by growers who are opposed to the current regime.
Mr Eustice confirmed that some AHDB services may be retained on a voluntary basis for those who want them and said that once the current vote on the continuation of the statutory levy on the potato sector had been completed, he would be discussing a timetable for the other sectors represented by AHDB.
It is up to Mr Eustice and farming ministers from Scotland and Wales to make a decision on the future of AHDB Horticulture following the ballot of members, 61% of whom voted to abolish the compulsory levy in a turnout of 69% of eligible businesses.
Mr Eustice told NFU members at an online conference: “We will be taking a swift decision on the AHDB ballot and saying a bit more about this in the coming weeks.
“It is pretty clear there is a very straight result. Some of the larger horticultural producers were more supportive of maintaining the current turnover levy, but there was a clear majority against, so we will respect the outcome of that ballot.”
Spalding-based flower grower Simon Redden, one of the so-called petitioners who argued for the ballot, welcomed Mr Eustice’s comments.
“Since the result was published too many people have tried to spin the result based on the amount of levy paid, something which we are pleased to see Defra has not tried to do,” he said.
Another petitioner, vegetable and potato grower John Bratley added: “We have always said that growers must not be forced to pay the levy, and that it amounts to unfair taxation without representation.
“Although the majority of growers clearly feel they gain no benefit from AHDB, those who do feel it provides them with something are free to continue to support it, but that minority should not be able to force the majority of grower businesses to pay for it. Given the comments made by some interested parties over the last two weeks, it is refreshing to hear George Eustice give such a clear and unequivocal statement.”
The AHDB potato ballot will run until mid-March.