Horticulture growers will be given the chance to vote on the future of the AHDB levy after a lengthy campaign.
AHDB said it had received the formal request from growers in line with the legal process, which requires more than 5 per cent of levy payers to trigger a ballot.
The levy board said it saw the process as an ‘opportunity to showcase the role and impact AHDB has in supporting growers’ as well as prompting an open debate on the role of the levy.
But at a time of such uncertainty, it warned growers could lose out on valuable research on areas such as crop protection, emergency chemical approvals and labour efficiency.
Ruth Ashfield, strategy director for horticulture at AHDB, said: “We appreciate not everyone likes everything we do, but most horticulture businesses, particularly those who engage with us, do value the essential grower-led research programmes.
“Under the simple ballot question, triggered by the delivery of the petition, those benefits could be lost to all.”
A number of growers have been vocal about the continuation of the levy in recent years, with some believing it is ’outdated’ and pushing for an overhaul of how the money is spent and others calling for it to be scrapped altogether.
Lincolnshire farmer and petitioner John Bratley said they had called for the ballot as the review by Defra had been ‘appalling’.
He said AHDB could not serve horticulture because it was such a diverse industry growing for specific markets, not commodities.
“Even if you gave them five times the money they could not service all of brassicas, flowers and soft fruits,” he said, adding those growing the same crop in different areas also had very different challenges.
Mr Bratley added they had received an ‘amazing’ amount of support from businesses both large and small.
He encouraged those who were going to vote to look at their businesses and think how much input AHDB has had and if they received value for money.
Ms Ashfield said other points raised by levy payers, including how growers can get more involved or whether there could be a voluntary levy or a vote every five years on what AHDB does, would form no part of the upcoming ballot.
She added: “We need to be clear this ballot is about the future of AHDB horticulture.
“It is not about looking at updating the way levy is collected or how the levy spend is allocated. It is not about reform under the request for views commitments.”
AHDB said it would procure an independent company to administer the ballot. It will send out more details, including how to access it once all growers had been validated. Each must have paid levy within the previous 12 months to qualify.
Any decision on the future of a levy ultimately rests with Ministers, who must be informed of the result of a ballot, but are not bound by the result.