Horticultural levy back on the agenda for R&D

Only a few short months after potato and horticultural crop growers voted to dispense with the services and the levy-gathering powers of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, an industry row is brewing over the future funding of research in these areas.

Vegetable growers levy concerns
Vegetable growers levy concerns

Following reports of support for future compulsory levies in the two sectors, the group which originally campaigned to have the AHDB levies abolished has warned against what they termed attempts to “re-write the results and replace one statutory levy with another”.

And yesterday those advocating its abolition declared that statutory levy gathering had been clearly rejected by producers, with Lincolnshire potato and vegetable grower John Bratley stating that in two decisive votes, two-thirds of growers across both the horticulture and potato sectors had unambiguously rejected the idea of a statutory levy.

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Fellow campaigner, Spalding–based vegetable farmer Peter Thorold directly criticised plans floated recently by the Growers’ Better Levy Group (GBLG) - which represents 36 horticultural businesses – to support the continuation of a small levy to fund ‘critical work’:

“The GBLG represents just three per cent of those businesses which were eligible to vote on the continuation of a statutory levy,” said Thorold.

“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.”

He added that in funding their own R&D they would be able to claim substantial tax relief which was not available under a statutory scheme:

“… that in itself makes a bureaucratic statutory scheme a bad deal,” he added.

But in reply to the points raised, Phil Pearson, chair of the GBLG said it was his group’s contention that the majority of the industry would support paying a reduced levy for essential research to a Growers Research Agency which was properly under the control of the industry.

He said that his group was in the process of developing and sharing its ideas outside of GBLG membership - and had been finding widespread support for such a proposal to ensure that fundamental research benefiting all producers continued:

“The GBLG's position reflects a mainstream position that both accepts the need for collectively funded essential research and rejects paying a levy to a body which is not controlled by the industry,” said Pearson.

“It is vital that Defra now fully engage with the GBLG to ensure that appropriate provision is made to service our future research requirements.”

However campaigner against the levy, Bratley said that Defra Minister Victoria Prentiss had already given a strong hint of the direction of travel having recently stated that the result of the ballot must be respected:

“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,” concluded Bratley.

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