IN WHAT has been described as a 'decisive rejection' of the statutory levy that supports the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, an official ballot of horticultural growers has voted 61% in favour of bringing it to an end.

Opponents of the levy forced the vote upon the AHDB by raising a petition with enough sector signatories to trigger the process – and as a result, growers Simon Redden, John Bratley and Peter Thorold, all of Lincolnshire, may forever more be known as the 'AHDB petitioners'.

Welcoming the result of the official ballot, the petitioners this week said that it was 'no surprise', given the findings of their own research last summer, which had strongly indicated that growers did not want the statutory levy in horticulture to continue.

However, they also expressed concerns about AHDB's reaction to the result of the ballot, which seemed to move away from the ‘one business, one vote’ principle upon which decision-making had previously been founded.

AHDB highlighted that the overall voter turnout was 69% of eligible levy-payers, within which the vote was 61% against the levy versus 39% in favour. But it also flagged up 'voting analysis' based on the value of levy paid, and claimed that painted a different picture, with 57% in favour of the levy versus 43% against.

AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir said: “The voting information reported by UK Engage shows different sentiment across different crop sectors and size of business – it is really a very complex picture.

“It is now down to Ministers to weigh up all the various factors about GB horticulture and make a decision on the future role of a horticulture levy.”

Petitioner Mr Redden said: “As the AHDB well knows, the statute is quite clear and requires the ballot to be based on ‘one business, one vote’.

“However, Mr Saphir now appears to be blatantly trying to change the rules of the ballot to suit his own interpretation on the basis of total levy paid. This is clearly a desperate and disgraceful attempt to influence ministers whilst trampling on the views of the two-thirds of levy-payers who have voted to get rid of this statutory levy. It lies outside the rules of the ballot and must not be allowed to prevail.

“Basing the result on the amount of levy paid, instead of one business, one vote, is a last-ditch attempt to save AHDB Horticulture," suggested Mr Redden. "It is not democratic and can be compared to closing the gates on the third-class passengers on the Titanic – letting them drown in an attempt to save the first-class passengers who pay more.”

AHDB's woes are far from over, as the parallel ballot on whether or not potato growers want to continue to pay their statutory levy to the body opened this week, on February 17.

In an effort to woo Scottish-based potato levy payers, AHDB is holding a virtual meeting on Monday February 22, promising 'an open conversation' regarding its activities in and on behalf of Scotland.