English potato growers have wasted no time in taking the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) up on its offer of more consultation on the future of levies.
A trio of disenchanted producers has delivered just under 200 signatures calling for a vote on the continuation of the potatoes levy – well above the 103 required to trigger a ballot – to AHDB’s headquarters in Stoneleigh.
AHDB responded by saying that if the request is validated, the subsequent ballot would be a simple yes or no vote on the continuation of the levy.
The move by the three growers, who have previously campaigned for a ballot on the horticulture levy, comes hard on the heels of AHDB’s promise of “honest, open and robust” dialogue with the industry about how the £5.8 million-a-year levy is invested.
AHDB potatoes sector interim chair, Alison Levett, said the organisation was looking at alternative ways of calculating the potatoes levy, which is currently based on planted area and does not take into account lost or destroyed crops.
She added that the new strategy would propose a “claw back” option, allowing growers to claim in the event of crop loss.
She said: “While we are confident we can demonstrate our investment of the levy has brought tangible benefits for individual growers and the industry… We fully recognise the need to be responsive to the significant challenges ahead.
“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.”
NFU Scotland’s potatoes working group chairman, Pete Grewar, called on growers to participate in a virtual meeting on January 7 to discuss AHDB’s strategy for the sector.
He added: “Participating in the town hall meeting will allow all Scottish levy payers to take an informed view, should it come to a vote.”
AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir emphasised the ballot was “not a means for expressing discontent with the way levy is collected… or how AHDB operates”.
He added: “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.”