AHDB to hold regular ballot on how levies are paid and spent

Farmers are to be offered a regular ballot on the levies they pay and how the money is spent, as part of a review of the operations of the AHDB.

There will also be a fresh look at the levy system for potatoes and horticulture, improved communication and revisions to the AHDB’s board and committee structure.

This follows the government’s response to its “request for views” exercise, published earlier this year, in which it said statutory levies were still the best means of funding the AHDB, but farmers should be balloted every five years to confirm this approach.

See also: What we’ve learned from government review of the AHDB

In a statement this week, AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir said: “We have listened carefully to the views expressed by levy payers in response to the government-led request for views, and we are now committed to some key reforms to ensure we are fit for purpose in the changing times British agriculture is facing.”

Strategy

A new five-year strategy, which is being published for comment this autumn, will focus on the two key areas of market development and farm performance.

“Our industry is about to undergo significant change driven by a new direction in trade and agriculture policies, as well as shifting consumer demands,” said Mr Saphir.

“Farming and supply chain businesses will need to compete with the best in the world, drawing on the latest insight to improve farm performance, grow market opportunities and meet environmental goals.”

The AHDB has committed to a regular ballot on the sector levies – probably every five years – and how the money is spent, though the timings and format have yet to be worked out in detail with Defra and the devolved governments.

Horticulture review

Alongside this, the AHDB will be reviewing and updating the levy calculations for horticulture and potatoes, which are based on business turnover in horticulture and hectares planted in potatoes.

This follows a recent independent survey of almost 2,000 growers, led by three Lincolnshire vegetable, potato and flower producers.

They found that, of the 660 respondents, 92% questioned the value of the AHDB to their businesses and 80% said they did not want to pay a statutory levy.

Speaking on BBC Radio’s Farming Today, survey organiser John Bratley said he was now collecting names of like-minded growers to present to the AHDB to trigger an immediate ballot on the future of the levy.

The AHDB’s constitution provides for a ballot if 5% or more of levy payers in a sector ask for one – equivalent to 70 levy-paying businesses in horticulture.

Mr Saphir said the review of levies in these sectors had been ongoing for some time already, admitting that the current system, based on last year’s revenue in the horticultural sector and are planted for potato growers, were wrong.

But he added that all growers benefited from the wide range of tasks the AHDB performed, so a voluntary levy system would not be practical.

The AHDB’s five commitments

  1. To seek levy payers’ views on a new strategy this autumn and communicate regularly on how the levy has been spent 
  2. To hold a ballot on the levies and how they are spent 
  3. To work with growers to design a modern levy system
  4. To focus on farm performance and market development at home and overseas
  5. To review the AHDB board and committee set-up

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