Campaigners for the abolition of the AHDB potato and horticulture levies have voiced concerns that a new Defra consultation could overturn last year’s votes.
The trio of producers who triggered the votes on the future of the AHDB, who are known as the AHDB petitioners, say they fear Defra’s consultation on reforming the levy body. which closed two weeks ago, could be used to overturn the original ballots.
One of the petitioners, Lincolnshire vegetable and potato grower John Bratley said: “The two ballots had participation rates of 66% of eligible levy payers for horticulture and 64% for potatoes, and returned a clear majority against continuing with the statutory levy; 60% per cent against a horticulture levy and 66% per cent against a potato levy.
“However, the last time Defra conducted its own consultation on AHDB in 2018 it obtained only a 0.5% response from the industry.
“This latest consultation exercise has been equally badly organised and poorly promoted, and so there is a danger that a vocal minority of growers who support some form of compulsory levy could influence the result.
“It is therefore crucial that Defra respects the result of the ballot, which was organised under the existing statutory instrument, and scrap the statutory levy for horticulture and potatoes.”
Lincolnshire vegetable farmer Peter Thorold added: “More than 480 horticultural growers and more than 790 potato levy payers vote to abolish the statutory levy and do away with AHDB which provided them with little benefit in return for the vast sums of money being collected.
“Based on previous experience, the Defra consultation is unlikely to attract more than handful of responses, and so it is crucial that these are not allowed to overturn such a clear mandate to abolish the levy.”
Defra said responses to the consultation would be analysed and considered by Ministers in the UK Government and devolved administrations and a summary analysis would be published within 12 weeks of the closure of this consultation.
Meanwhile, flower grower Simon Redden – another of the petitioners – said research and development in the industry was continuing without funding from AHDB.
He added: “This is a chance for horticultural research to be as dynamic and fast-moving as the industry that is funding it. We also agree with other groups that the Government should do more to invest in this area.”