61 per cent of voters in the ballot voted against the continuation of the levy
Horticulture growers have reacted with anger after AHDB appeared to move the goalposts following the results of the levy ballot, as 61 per cent of levy payers voted against continuation of the statutory levy.
The vote was run on the basis of one levy payer, one vote.
But in a statement following the result, AHDB chairman Nicholas Saphir highlighted the vote by value of levy paid showed a reverse picture of 57 per cent yes votes.
The growers behind the petition said the industry had provided an overwhelming ‘no’, saying it confirmed ‘beyond doubt’ that growers did not want the statutory levy in horticulture to continue.
Spalding-based vegetable grower Peter Thorold said the comments were a ‘desperate and disgraceful attempt to influence ministers whilst trampling on the views of the two-thirds of levy-payers who have voted to get rid of this statutory levy’.
Flower grower Simon Redden said it was a last-ditch attempt to save AHDB Horticulture.
“It is not democratic and can be compared to closing the gates on the third-class passengers on the Titanic – letting them drown in an attempt to save the first-class passengers who pay more.”
They said this attempt to ‘skew’ the result also affected the ballot on the continuation of the statutory levy for potatoes, which opened this week (February 17).
Vegetable and potato grower John Bratley said if Mr Saphir’s train of thought was taken to its ‘logical conclusion’ three-quarters of potato levy payers, around 1,500 growers, will have the value of their votes queried by AHDB.
“What value is there in any of the ballots of the future that he keeps promising us all if they keep trying to move the goalposts?” Mr Bratley added.
They also called on NFU to ‘represent the interests of its members’ and criticise the actions of AHDB.
Mr Redden added growers who had benefitted little from AHDB over the years would not tolerate the situation any longer and had ‘clearly spoken and voted to end the statutory levy’.
NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper said: “This vote demonstrates that many growers feel either disappointed or disengaged with how their levy is being spent.
“It will also be a disappointing result for those that see the importance in the principle of a statutory levy and the value that applied research and development can deliver for their businesses.
“A number of businesses have come out in support of the statutory levy in the past few weeks, albeit with necessary reforms of AHDB. While the majority of levy payers voted to discontinue the levy, it is notable that when results are weighted by levy contribution there is a majority to continue the levy.
“This shows just how divided levy payers have become and makes it critically important that Ministers consider carefully how to respect all sides of the debate.
“It is important that the business innovation that comes from research and development programmes and the business critical work on plant protection products are not removed where there remains a need.
“While Ministers are not bound by the vote, I would urge them to engage carefully with levy payers before reaching a decision on the next steps.”