Rebel growers criticise AHDB's January ballot date

Growers Simon Redden, Peter Thorold and John Bratley with Ruth Ashfield, AHDB Strategy Director Horticulture
Growers Simon Redden, Peter Thorold and John Bratley with Ruth Ashfield, AHDB Strategy Director Horticulture

Growers who launched a challenge to AHDB have criticised the organisation's decision to hold a ballot on the future of the horticulture levy in January.

Last week, AHDB formally announced there will be a ballot in January 2021 on the continuation of a statutory levy in horticulture - a simple 'yes or no' vote.

The ballot will look at the future existence of AHDB Horticulture and the work it sets out to deliver on behalf of UK growers.

AHDB said it would procure the service of an independent company to administer the vote process.

It added this would take a number of weeks, and that voting process would commence next year.

But this length of time has been queried by the three Lincolnshire growers who organised the request for a ballot, flower grower Simon Redden and veg producers Peter Thorold and John Bratley.

The group, who call themselves the AHDB Petitioners, believe the organisation is 'based on an outdated system which taxes growers but is unaccountable to them'.

Mr Redden said: “We trust that AHDB will not use this ‘verification process’ to deny a vote to those growers who have paid the levy prior to the publication of the Defra review.

"But due to the challenging economic conditions caused by the weather and Covid-19 in 2019/20 may currently be in arrears in their current levy payments.

"Such growers must not be disenfranchised at this crucial time."

He said the AHDB Petitioners were able to appoint Civica Election Services and launch their ballot 'within three weeks'.

"We can’t understand why it should take an organisation the size of AHDB three months to do the same for a single question," Mr Redden added.

"The AHDB has already had six months to respond to the results of Defra’s call for views and have only now just started to talk about ‘serious reform’ when faced with a grower driven ballot which they never anticipated.”

However, the growers welcomed comments by AHDB Chair Nicholas Saphir that both sides of the argument would have the chance to put their views to levy payers before the ballot.

Mr Saphir said: “We welcome the opportunity for an open debate on the important role of AHDB and how it is the funding backbone of horticultural applied research and development to address crop protection, labour, resource use, and technical innovation.”

Once the ballot has concluded, AHDB said it would publish the results on its website and inform ministers, who would then make a decision on the future of the levy.

Ministers are not bound by the result of the ballot.