Tattie growers will be sent bills this week calling for the payment of the full AHDB levy of £42.62 per hectare – despite the levy board being largely wound down.
The AHDB is mailing invoices along with an accompanying letter detailing why the bills need to be paid and asking for “immediate settlement”, but growers will not be keen to stump up tens of thousands of pounds in many cases to receive nothing in return.
The AHDB says the funds from growers, together with sector reserves, will be used to cover the costs of winding-down all levy-payer activity in the potato sector.
This includes seeing out contractual liabilities including research programmes (£4 million), potato storage programmes (£0.6 million), covering the costs of lease commitments and staff redundancies, (excluding Sutton Bridge potato storage facility) (£1.7 million) and covering the costs and asset write-downs of closing Sutton Bridge including staff redundancies and after site sale proceeds (£1.1 million).
The Sutton Bridge facility is expected to go on the open market shortly and the scientific equipment and potato processing/handling equipment on site will also be offered for sale.
The letter from Alison Levett, the interim potato sector board chair, acknowledged that producers would be frustrated at having to pay after voting to stop the levy earlier this year, but warned of the consequences of ignoring the demand.
She said: “I would ask you to recognise that we cannot simply abandon our contractual liabilities or not honour legal redundancy processes.
“The potato board have been very keen to emphasise the importance of a level playing field on this matter and that all unpaid levy bills should be pursued.”
NFU Scotland’s potato committee chairman, Mike Wilson was surprised that the full levy was being demanded by AHDB.
“We weren’t expecting that and it’ll really upset a few growers,” he said.
Horticulture producers have also been sent letters, but their bills have been reduced by 40%.
AHDB Horticulture estimates it will cost £10.6 million to meet all the sector’s liabilities, and have issued bills to growers which are expected to raise £4.55 million.
Meanwhile, the industry is still awaiting a final ministerial decision on the levy vote.
The AHDB says it understands government will launch an industry consultation later this year on proposed changes to the legislation that governs AHDB and on future options.