Perhaps the die has been cast regarding the future of the levy boards following the latest ballot result on the desirability of AHDB Potatoes.
With two thirds of votes cast no longer wanting a continuation of the levy, it would be a brave person, as some have pointed out, who bet one way or another on the outcomes of future sector board votes.
Reading between the lines of industry commentary in the subsequent fallout, there is clearly an undertone of disappointment about the way the aftermath of the AHDB Horticulture ’no’ vote was handled and how long the winding up of that levy will take.
While much of that has been aimed at current AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir, who provokes mixed opinions, the problems with the levy board and related farmer discontent clearly go back much further than his reign.
It is an unenviable position that AHDB finds itself in, with many farmers wanting a focus on market development at home and abroad, alongside increased marketing spend; while the levy boards themselves have been focused on knowledge transfer and more efficient farming, the latter two of which have not always been welcomed by the more vocal critics.
Whether or not the remaining sectors vote for change will be a case of wait and see, but if they did would that money, which currently goes into AHDB to fund a plethora of different items, ever find its way back into the industry at the same level? Many will think that to be a good thing, but there could be unintended consequences if farming has less research and market analysis to draw upon.
And what would Government make of such moves? While many would hope they would reimagine the vehicles of support for agricultural productivity, there is every chance they could perceive it as a two fingered salute to state intervention and reduce its own role longer term.
AHDB does a lot of valuable work which helps the industry move forward, but somewhere along the line a dangerous disconnect has emerged between the levy board and scores of its levy payers. It is that, crucially, which leaves it facing a very uncertain future.