The old saying runs that it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and to remove all doubt.

While this should probably act as a warning to columnists to stick to what they know, I’m tempting fate here by writing about an important issue in the tattie sector.

But the upcoming ballot on whether potato growers want the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) to continue to provide their services to the sector is surely important enough to run that risk.

So, with the actual vote amongst growers set to take place next month, speaking as a non-grower of the crop, any mistakes I make or misinformed opinion which comes to light might leave me, at worst, a little red-faced.

But for the sector itself, any mistakes or lack of knowledge on what might be at stake could well have significantly greater consequences.

Now, I wrote before that the issue might be a bit like Brexit in the run up to the referendum – in that it’s easy to stand back and blame what appears in most lights to be a big, lumbering and expensive organisation, guilty of taking a top-heavy, overly-bureaucratic approach in its workings.

It might also stand accused of being more than a little out of touch with those who have to cough up their hard-earned cash for what some view as the questionable luxury of bank-rolling its operations.

Let’s face it, though, being charged with gathering information on and promoting the various sectors of the industry, along with not only paying for and encouraging research and development in the sector but also getting this filtered down to farm level, is not only a pretty tall order but is one which sets any organisation up to be a become the sort of Aunt Sally stall that's an easy target for all the brickbats under the sun.

Again like Brexit, it might not be until after the boats have been burned that a lot of those keen to see the big organisation’s demise finally realise that it wasn’t actually to blame for many of the wrongs with which it was charged. What's more, something, or somebody, has to fill the often uncomfortable role which it played.

For a third Brexit likeness, it might just be that hindsight might show that the sector could have been better served by highlighting where specific issues lay and what could be done to address them - and then seeking reform from within, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water.

But that’s all supposition on my part, because there is a fairly strong groundswell out there amongst growers that something needs to be done about how the AHDB operates.

The general feeling which seems to be emanating from Scotland’s 300-odd producers, as well as across the rest of the UK, seems to be that the potato sector isn’t getting good value for the not inconsiderable sums of money it spends from its levies.

Now this is an area where the potato sector – and, perhaps more than coincidentally, the horticultural sector, where a similar ballot is currently underway – differ from the arable and oilseed, the dairy and the other sectors which AHDB represents.

For while some grain growers may feel slightly miffed at the few quid knocked off each load of grain which pays for AHDB levies, I would imagine that the majority probably hardly even notice (go on then, how much is it?).

But in both the potato and horticulture sectors, growers have to sit down and write a fairly hefty cheque for these services. This can sometimes be a painful exercise, especially as they’re charged for crops even if they have had to be abandoned because of the weather, or if the price has been at rock bottom.

At £42.62 per ha, the levy soon mounts up – with the average sized guy in Scotland growing just over 100 ha likely to be writing out a cheque in the region of £4500, while for some of the bigger boys this will be considerably higher.

Even medium-sized tattie growers are probably pretty big businesses, though, with an annual turnover of well in excess of that of a similarly-sized livestock or cereal farm. For this reason as well, a lot of growers feel that they are better able to stand on their own two feet and both organise and focus the research they want themselves.

The feeling also seems to be that by missing out on a lot of the additional bureaucratic inefficiencies associated with the AHDB hierarchical structure, growers could finance R and D through a co-operative approach. They would also be likely to get considerably more bang for their buck by going direct to SRUC, or Scottish Agronomy.

On top of this there are considerable tax benefits of up to 230% of the amount invested to be gleaned by businesses from financing research – benefits which are lost under the levy system.

The overall structure of the AHDB has also come in for considerable criticism. It’s probably fair to say that its top-heavy status is a legacy of merging five different sector levy bodies into one during one of the government pushes to be seen to reduce the number of quangos back in 2008.

For, in order to deliver a swift cut in the number of non-departmental governmental bodies operating in agriculture, lumping them all together delivered an instant – if questionable – result.

Even the organisation’s chair, Nicholas Saphir, has admitted that the logistics of bringing together these groups without facing up to many of the fundamental underlying structural issues over the past 12 years had not helped dispel the view amongst many levy payers that the AHDB is a top down organisation that doesn’t listen, or deliver good value for money.

Another grouse amongst growers has been AHDB’s relationship with Defra. That's because the people who actually sit on the board are not elected by a levy-payers vote but are, rather, appointed by ministers – the sort of taxation without representation situation which saw us lose our American colonies 250 years ago.

There’s also a feeling that Defra calls the tune on the R and D front as well, with producer’s money financing research in areas which many growers feel should actually be supported by the state as they return little in the way of commercial benefits to individuals in the sector.

But herein lies a bit of a conundrum – and that might be that by returning a 'no' vote to the continued support of AHDB Potatoes, such a result could easily be viewed by the cash-strapped UK Government as a strong signal that growers don’t place value on research and as a consequence could cut other areas of funding as well.

So, there will be much to discuss at the upcoming series of so-called Town Hall meetings which have been organised to discuss the underlying issues. These have to be a must attend for tattie growers, not only to let them get the real facts rather than rely on the haverings of columnists and pundits writing in newspapers and magazines– but also to give them the chance to get answers to their own questions straight from the horse's mouth.

There has been some fear that the AHDB’s ability to harness its own PR department could create a bit of a David and Goliath situation, by using all the resources available to it to promote itself and put a highly professional gloss to convince producers of the need for its continued existence.

But, funnily enough, having spoken with Nicholas Saphir, recently, while admitting that changes were needed within the organisation, he actually highlighted that the AHDB wasn’t good at singing its own praises. One of its faults was not blowing its own trumpet loudly enough for producers to realise the full value and extent of the work which the board actually carried out.

In the interest of balance, it is worth stressing that Saphir also warned that the ballot was not a means for expressing discontent with the way levy is collected or spent or how AHDB operates.

“It is solely about whether AHDB will continue to deliver statutory levy-funded services and products to the potatoes sector or not,” he told me.

“Lose it and we lose the ability to collectively invest in the collective challenges that lie ahead from climate change, including sprays, chemicals, IPM and zero carbon. Lose it and we lose the collective investment in R and D generally, storage and disease prevention.

"Finally, we lose collective evidence that allows decisions to be made and productivity benchmarked.

“Discussions about our change programme, our package of activities and where the levy is best spent are part of our five commitments to levy payers and the feedback we’re seeking from industry on the new strategy. We are urging potatoes growers to get involved and voice their views.”

The outcome of the vote will be important to the sector, so it’s crucial that growers do get fully involved in the debate, tune into the meetings and ask the sort of awkward questions which will help them come to a truly informed decision.