Vegetable, flower and potato growers who led the campaign to abolish a statutory levy on horticulture and potato production – the AHDB Petitioners – have expressed concern and disappointment by recent comments by NFU representatives, and the Growers Better Levy Group, suggesting the industry supports a compulsory levy.
Simon Redden, John Bratley and Peter Thorold have become known as the AHDB Petitioners. They are all based in South Lincolnshire and collectively grow potatoes, vegetables, and flowers across 2,025 ha (5,000 acres) of land, and 5.6 ha (14 acres) of glasshouses.
Lincolnshire potato and vegetable grower John Bratley said, “In two decisive votes, two-thirds of growers across the horticulture and potato sectors unambiguously rejected the idea of a statutory levy. However, over the last three weeks we have seen comments which appear to be trying to re-write this result and replace one statutory levy with another.”
Speaking at the Festival of Fresh conference on 13 July, chair of the NFU Horticulture & Potatoes board Ali Capper suggested that the majority of growers supported a new statutory levy. Ms Capper said: “I think the vast majority of growers see the necessity for some form of small statutory or mandatory levy.”
Her comments were questioned by John who said, “The vast majority of growers rejected the idea of a statutory levy. After all the ballot was on the continuation of a compulsory levy, not the structure of the AHDB. Almost 61 per cent of horticulture growers and more than 66 per cent of potato growers rejected a compulsory levy, so it is unclear how Ms Capper can say the majority support it.”
In fact, John says that regional NFU staff have distanced themselves from Ms Capper’s comments, stating that she was speaking in her role as chair of British Apples & Pears rather than in her NFU capacity. John also questions that, “If Ms Capper is so supportive of a compulsory levy, it brings into question her ability to represent growers within the NFU. The NFU needs to remember that the vast majority of growers who voted against a statutory levy are also a majority of its members.”
In another development, the Growers’ Better Levy Group (GBLG), which represents 36 horticultural businesses, issued a statement which said, ‘The continuation of a small Statutory Levy is necessary to fund critical work.’
Spalding-based vegetable farmer Peter Thorold criticised the group for claiming to represent the industry. “The GBLG represents just three per cent of those businesses which were eligible to vote on the continuation of a statutory levy. They may well wish to jointly establish and fund their own non-statutory body for their own R&D. However, they must not be allowed to have their research needs subsidised by an industry wide statutory levy which growers have overwhelmingly rejected.
“In funding their own R&D they will be able to claim substantial tax relief which is not available under a statutory scheme …. that in itself makes a bureaucratic statutory scheme a bad deal.”
However, the AHDB Petitioners say they were emboldened by comments made by Defra Minister Victoria Prentiss at the Festival of Fresh when she said, “We must respect the result of the ballot.” “It is good to hear that Defra at least recognises the strength of feeling from the industry and understands that the votes were a clear rejection of a statutory levy, which is in effect an additional and unnecessary tax on horticultural businesses,” commented John.
Source: AHDB Petitioners
Photo: L-R: Simon Redden, Peter Thorold & John Bratley