Vegetable, flower and potato growers who voted to abolish the statutory levy on horticulture and potato production have slammed 'minority' calls for a new system of levy-funded research.

One of the leaders of the movement that forced a ballot on the AHDB statutory levy, Lincolnshire potato and vegetable grower John Bratley, this week warned that recent comments by the Growers Better Levy Group not only went against the result of that vote, but were 'patronising' in telling growers how to fill in the current Defra consultation.

“There are a number of issues with the latest statements by the GBLG, but the biggest is that it ignores that fact that almost 490 levy payers have already voted against the continuation of a statutory levy," said Mr Bratley. "That applies irrespective of who that levy is paid to.

“By its own admission, the GBLG is ‘not a democratically elected board’ and represents just 3% of those horticulture businesses that were eligible to vote on the continuation of a levy at the end of 2020. In terms of the potato sector, it represents just three growers out of 1860 eligible voters. Once again, we have a very small minority trying to tell growers and Defra what is best for individual and highly diverse grower businesses. We know from the comments we have received from hundreds of growers that they know what is best for their own businesses.”

In one recent article1 GBLG admit that the alternative to their proposals is that ‘work will be funded on a voluntary levy basis where only those growers that pay will benefit from the work.’ This is precisely what the majority of growers who voted to abolish statutory levies want to happen.

“The period following the demise of AHDB in the horticulture and potatoes sector has given businesses the chance to take stock and prioritise their R&D needs,” continues John. “For example, top fruit growers have real issues with canker, while many vegetable growers are more concerned about farmgate prices rather than technological innovation at the moment.

"Post-AHDB growers finally have £13 million in saved levy – as well as the £40 million that Producer Organisations will receive annually – to spend as they see fit on their own R&D priorities. It must also be remembered that the substantial tax relief available on such spending would be lost with any statutory levy scheme.”

Mr Bratley insisted that the industry had no need of a new middle-man to collect levy and direct research – research and advisory organisations had begun making direct approaches to grower groups, and he claimed that a much more focused and dynamic industry approach to R&D was beginning to evolve.

"Such direct dialogue between growers and researchers would be undermined by the reintroduction of any new levy body – something which would also require significant parliamentary time to create the necessary statutory instruments."

Another of the so-called AHDB petitioners, Spalding-based flower grower Simon Redden, criticised the GBLG for failing to accept the result of the original levy ballot: “They are like Remainers in the Brexit vote who simply won’t accept the result of the democratic majority. Twelve months after the levy ballot they are trying to rewrite the clear result to suit their own needs, rather than the needs of the majority of growers.” He added that telling growers how to answer the questions on the current Defra consultation was 'simply insulting'.