New role for AHDB levy on cards after 61 per cent vote

The continued statutory levy gathering power of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) is likely to be put to the vote across all sectors – with the prospect of a major restructuring in the organisation’s operations.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivered his 'big vision' message in a virtual speech last week (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Speaking at the English NFU’s online annual conference yesterday, Defra Secretary of State George Eustice said that while the operation of the organisation was highly valued both by Defra and within the industry, the ballots in the horticultural and potato sectors on the board’s role were likely to be extended.

Promising a swift decision respecting the outcome of the horticultural sector, which returned a majority of 61 per cent in favour of removing the statutory turnover levy, he suggested that the services provided by the AHDB to these growers could move to a system based on the collection of a voluntary levy or through a subscription service.

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Commending the role the body played in furthering market access and organising emergency authorisation for the use of pesticides, he said that the AHDB also had an important function in convening research and development.

But he said that different models were being operated successfully in other countries, including New Zealand.

“I’m a huge supporter of the work which new chair Nicholas Saphir has done with the board over the past 12 months,” said Eustice, “but there’s a lot to be said for a regular ballot - perhaps every five years - on the operations of the board and for it to respond to producers’ needs and show it is delivering value for money.”

Later in the day international trade secretary, Liz Truss, stressed the important role which the AHDB played in providing a concerted approach to marketing UK produce abroad, with both industry and government playing their part.

Also addressing the conference, Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer said that the time was right for his party to rebuild its relationship with the farming industry and rural areas.

In the first address to the conference by a Labour party leader for 13 years, Starmer said that the industry was going through a crucial period.

“And my worry is that the current significant policy changes being put forward by the government will mean that many of the small family farms which are the backbone of the industry will fall by the wayside.”

Starmer also said that there was a need to invest in the skills for the future and for the creation of more affordable homes in rural areas to allow workers to live there.

The union’s president, Minette Batters took a swipe at those who abused the country’s farm assurance schemes which demonstrated the country’s high traceability and standards.

“Some have taken advantage of this and I say to you this morning – the hypocrisy, particularly in the grain market must end.

“Millers, compounders and crushers cannot expect British farmers to jump through ever higher hoops and have their market undermined by mixing grain that doesn’t have to meet the same stringent requirements as our farmers have to.

“This practice is an abuse. It must stop.”