Levy payers funding the work of the AHDB in the cereals, red meat and dairy sectors must be allowed a yes/no vote this spring on whether these payments should continue, the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) has said.
In its response to the Defra consultation on proposed changes to the AHDB, which closes today (11 January), the TFA called for farmers to be given the option to decide whether the statutory levy should be completely abolished in each of the sectors.
It said this option should be available not just this spring, when AHDB levy payers will be given their say on the things that AHDB deliver on their behalf, but every five years thereafter.
Last year, a majority of horticulture and potato producers voted to abolish the statutory levy when that ballot was triggered by at least 5% of levy payers.
The TFA would like Defra and the devolved administrations to respect those votes and to retain the 5% rule needed to trigger a ballot.
But it cautioned that this option should be used as a last resort, with levy payers being able to have a five-yearly opportunity to vote on a standard basis on whether the levy should continue or not for their sector.
It does, however, want AHDB to retain the ability to raise a voluntary levy for specific areas of work in the horticulture and potato sectors.
The TFA criticised the time it had taken for the consultation to be launched “given the strong feelings that have emerged among many levy payers about the value and need for AHDB”.
As a result, the levy board will have to work hard to redeem its credibility if it wants to exist in its current form, the TFA said. And this would depend on its ability to demonstrate value to levy payers.
To achieve this, its activities must be at the “leading edge’’ rather than at the “trailing edge” of the industry, the TFA added.
“With the word ‘development’ in its title, the organisation must always be striving to ensure that the industry is being moved forward from the front, rather than dragged up from the bottom.
“It must not replicate the sorts of advisory and consultancy available in the marketplace, it must do things that the industry cannot do for itself – the well-known ‘market failure’ argument.’’
Sheep levy hike
The TFA was not convinced, however, that there is a need for an increase in levy for the sheep sector, as proposed in the consultation.
Defra will now consider all the responses to the consultation, which aims to establish the legal framework for reform.
Meanwhile, the NFU has urged levy payers to register to take part in the AHDB’s “shape the future of farming” consultation this spring.
“I am hopeful that the process in the spring will allow farmers to feel that they have shaped the AHDB’s future properly, and the outcome is honoured and actioned,” said NFU Crops chairman Matt Culley.
In Wales, the Farmers’ Union of Wales also wants the outcome of the ballot of horticulture and potato growers to be respected.