New agriculture development board attracts 11,000 levy payers

Following a 17-week campaign costing £120,000, almost 11,000 levy payers have signed up to vote on the future course of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Tim Rycroft, AHDB chief exec
Tim Rycroft, AHDB chief exec

The organisation yesterday said it was pleased that a total of 10,842 had registered for what was the first time such a vote - which gives levy payers a much greater say in the organisation’s direction of travel and in setting the priorities for its future work streams – had been introduced.

While no hard figures were available for the total number of levy payers, The Scotsman believes that a total around 95,000 producers would be eligible from all sectors across the UK.

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The poll comes in the wake of the votes demanded last year by producers in the potato and horticulture sectors - which saw a clear majority voting to dispense with the boards work in their segments and to do away with the AHDBs statutory right to gather levies for these areas.

Following the subsequent review of the board’s operations by Government ministers, the Defra secretary, along with his devolved government counterparts, decided to offer those paying for the board’s services in its remaining sectors a vote giving greater say in what the organisation did and where its priorities lay.

To secure the right to vote on the various issues, producers were required to register before the end of March for the poll which opens next week, allowing levy payers to rate the importance of issues on a scale of one to five with five being the most important, as well as scoring the areas of work delivered by AHDB.

The board also confirmed that levy payers would also be asked to ratify the new members of the four Sector Councils.

In Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) is the non-departmental government body gathering and spending levies from the beef, lamb and pork sectors - meaning that Scottish producers can only vote in the milk and cereals and oilseed sectors.

And while the overall registration for milk producers was relatively high, accounting for over 60% of total production across the whole of the UK, the corresponding figure for the cereals and oilseed sector was 27%. This however was still considerably higher than the 15% and 16% coverage from levy payers registered to vote in the beef and lamb sectors.

The AHDB’s Chief executive Tim Rycroft said he was delighted levy payers would have the chance to steer how their funding was invested:

“We have engaged through countless events, webinars and discussion groups and have used multiple communications and media channels to support this campaign,” he said.

Thanking those who had taken part, Rycroft also paid tribute to AHDB staff who, he said had, against a backdrop of change and uncertainty, made it their mission since December to get levy payers registered:

“Consulting levy payers - and putting their voice at the heart of what we do - was one of the promises about changing AHDB that we made a year ago. Now we are delivering."

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