AHDB Petitioners claim ballot provides ‘mandate for change’

A ‘grower’s ballot’ of almost 2,000 horticulture and potato levy-payers shows the majority of growers view the Agricultural & Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) as “outdated and unwanted”.

The ballot was organised by three Lincolnshire growers, known as the ‘AHDB Petitioners’, who grow potatoes, vegetables and flowers with a combined turnover of £20 million.

The ballot was sent to 1,967 growers in total. Despite a Freedom of Information request, AHDB did not provide a full list of levy-payers to the independent polling company Civica Election Services Ltd (CES) which ran the ballot.

Responses were received from 585 horticulture or potato levy payers, 55 growers who pay both horticulture and potato levies, and 21 other individual levy payers – a total of 661 responses (a response rate of 33.6%).

With a response rate over 33%, organisers have hailed the exercise as “hugely successful compared to the Government’s call for views”. In 2018, the Government-led survey received responses from less than 0.5% of levy-payers.

Flower grower and ballot co-organiser Simon Redden said: “We believe that the AHDB’s refusal to provide details of all levy payers has denied some 1,800 growers from having a vote, a very undemocratic move. We are disappointed that the NFU did not agree with Defra’s recommendation for a five-yearly ballot on the future of AHDB and their enthusiasm for Defra’s heavily flawed review.

The NFU members who have voted in this ballot have provided a clear mandate for the NFU to reverse its previously held position.

The key findings from the ballot are:

Vegetable grower Peter Thorold said: “It is clear that Defra’s survey yielded too small a sample of opinions to be valid, something which was recognised in the review’s own conclusions.

“Given this, we wonder why AHDB horticulture chairman Hayley Campbell-Gibbons asserted last November that, there had been a ‘healthy level of response, especially from growers, to the government’s open review of AHDB’.

Defra’s low level of engagement also calls into question AHDB chief executive Jane King’s comment that the review provided ‘a general endorsement for the continuation of the statutory levy.’”

The majority of respondents to the Grower Ballot say they receive marginal, or no benefits from AHDB policies, and 81% no longer wish to pay a statutory levy.

Vegetable and potato producer John Bratley added: “These results highlight again that the statutory levy has extracted circa £140 million from horticulture and potato growers over the last twelve years while delivering nothing in return.

“With margins in these sectors under such pressure, and the Government keen to forge a new future for all sectors of British farming, we look forward to discussing these findings with Defra Secretary of State George Eustice and Parliamentary Under-Secretary Victoria Prentis.”

Who is behind the petition?

The ‘AHDB Petitioners’ are flower grower Simon Redden and vegetable and potato producers Peter Thorold and John Bratley.

The trio said they wanted to make the voices of growers heard and believe that the AHDB structure is based on an ‘outdated system’ which taxes growers but is unaccountable to them.

All three are based in South Lincolnshire and collectively grow potatoes, vegetables and flowers across 2,025ha of land, and 5.6ha of glasshouses. Together they employ around 250 people and have a combined turnover of £20 million.

The survey was carried out by Civica Election Services (CES) a leading UK provider of election services, with over 100 years’ experience of administering elections, ballots and consultation processes.

The firm works with over 75% of the UK’s local authorities, as well as with membership organisations, corporates, building societies and mutual societies, NHS bodies and trade unions.