THE arrival of letters outlining levy demands on potato producers, by AHDB, have caused understandable unrest among growers in the industry.

It is understood that about half of all growers have chosen not to fill in their annual return following the vote earlier this year to scrap the potato sector board, prompting the AHDB to produce its own estimates of how much each one owes.

A letter has been sent to each grower concerned, from AHDB finance director Naveen Gupta, communicating this situation, and once again inviting them to submit an official planting return.

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However, the letters also provide the estimated levy due, based on past plantings data.

Mr Gupta wrote: “If you fail to make a return or inform the board that you are not liable to pay levy within 28 days of this notification of the estimate, you will become liable under Article 7(2) of the order to pay levy in accordance with that estimate.”

In a separate letter to growers, Mr Gupta also writes: “AHDB will remain legally required to pursue all overdue levy payments and any debtor that refuses to pay will be pursued through the legal process”.

The correspondence with growers explains that the money is needed to meet the costs of winding down AHDB Potatoes and is being charged at the same rate as last year – £42.62 per ha planted.

Interim potato sector board chairwoman Alison Levett said she understood that many growers, having voted to stop the levy, would feel frustrated at being asked to pay one again this year.

Ms Levett said: “However, I would ask you to recognise that we cannot simply abandon our contractual liabilities or not honour legal redundancy processes.”

Ms Levett also revealed that the AHDB would be setting up a so called 'legacy package', including a website giving access to past research reports, knowledge exchange documents and market intelligence.

NFU Scotland’s potato working group chair, Mike Wilson said: “Many will have been surprised and upset at the levy demand. Our understanding is that the area used to calculate the amount of levy due is an estimate.

"It is important that those who have received bills check if it is an estimate or not, and to make sure they are not paying levy for more hectares than they have actually grown.”

Following the ballot of potato and horticulture levy payers earlier this year, the AHDB Board has been in communication with government ministers and has taken the decision to wind-down statutory levy-funded potato and horticulture operations.

Final decisions on the winding-down of AHDB Potatoes and AHDB Horticulture rest with the government, and a consultation is expected before the end of this year.

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