A group of campaigners has criticised a recently published Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) consultation for its 'abysmal' engagement with farmers.

AHDB Petitioners was responding to the results of the Defra-led consultation on the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), which were published last week (March 9).

While they welcomed to government's response confirming that the potato and horticulture sector levies will be lifted, the engagement levels with farmers and growers "as predicted" have been abysmal, the group said, with just 0.25% of eligible levy payers responding.

“Although Defra commented that ‘many growers from horticulture subsectors who responded to the consultation said they want a statutory subsector levy to continue,’ this is still a minority view from just 120 respondents,” stressed Lincolnshire flower grower Simon Redden.

“It is wrong for the National Farmers' Union (NFU) to interpret this consultation as meaningful, and any attempts to allow statutory levies to creep back in will be vigorously opposed.”

The campaigners also said it was disappointing, but not surprising, that Defra stressed that ‘public sector funding through the farm budget in England will not pay for research or other actions that were, or could reasonably be expected to be, funded through levy investment'.

At a time when the world is facing a food crisis, the group said, it is regrettable that this government will fund tree planting and rewilding but will not help improve the efficiency of healthy and sustainable food production.