Three growers launch new ballot on 'outdated' AHDB

Three growers say the AHDB structure is based on an 'outdated system which taxes growers but is unaccountable to them' (Photo: Flower grower Simon Redden)
Three growers say the AHDB structure is based on an 'outdated system which taxes growers but is unaccountable to them' (Photo: Flower grower Simon Redden)

Three growers have criticised the AHDB for being 'outdated' and 'unaccountable' and are now organising a ballot to obtain views on the organisation's future.

The Lincolnshire farmers behind the ballot are flower grower Simon Redden and vegetable and potato producers Peter Thorold and John Bratley.

Collectively they grow potatoes, vegetables and flowers across 2,025ha of land, and 5.6ha of glasshouses. They have a combined turnover of £20m.

They are now balloting others on their views of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), particularly whether they feel that it should retain legal powers to collect a compulsory levy-based on the turnover of their businesses.



Growers of vegetables, fruit, salads, ornamental plants and flowers pay a levy based on their turnover, which the three men call 'unfair'.

They said this can result in payments reaching 'tens of thousands of pounds' by large growers, and those who cannot pay were 'subject to legal action, and potential criminal convictions'.



Because of this, the growers are calling for the 'immediate decriminalisation' of the failure to file returns.

"Due to the very low profit margins in the sector (often around 1 per cent), successful businesses are often much larger businesses than most farms," the group said.

"Because horticulture is such a competitive industry, the most successful businesses conduct their own research to gain competitive advantage.

"However, they also have to pay AHDB to disseminate such information as widely as possible."

The ballot follows a government call for views in 2018 which attracted response from 'less than 0.5 per cent of levy-payers', the three growers explained.

"Despite such a low level of response, the majority of horticulture and potato growers felt ADHB was out of touch and the Defra review did not provide a mandate for the statutory levy to remain.

"Despite this, AHDB’s CEO Jane King proclaimed the results were, 'A general endorsement for the continuation of the levy'", they added.



Given the low level of engagement, the growers said the 'time was right' to gain a 'truly representative picture' of how AHDB is viewed by horticultural levy-payers.

They are asking whether levy-payers wish to continue to fund their sectors of the AHDB by a statutory levy or a voluntary option.

To canvass these views, they are sending ballot papers to growers from the beginning of July. Anyone who does not receive it can request one by emailing ahdbpetition@gmail.com.

The AHDB was established in 2008 to help farmers improve their performance and drive growth, for instance through knowledge exchanges, improving market access and marketing activities

A series of recommendations were recently outlined by the government to reform the organisation following a three-month request for views across all of its sectors.