Growers opposed to the continuation of a compulsory levy to fund the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) have welcomed comments made by Environment Secretary George Eustice that the vote to abolish the horticulture levy will be honoured.

Eustice was speaking at the annual National Farmers’ Union (NFU) online conference and said:

“We will be taking a swift decision on the AHDB ballot and saying a bit more about this in the coming weeks.

It is pretty clear there is a very straight result. Some of the larger horticultural producers were more supportive of maintaining the current turnover levy, but there was a clear majority against, so we will respect the outcome of that ballot.

He also said that once the current vote on the continuation of the statutory levy on the potato sector had been completed, he would be discussing a timetable for the other sectors represented by the AHDB.

Ballot results

Spalding-based flower grower Simon Redden, who was one of the growers who called for a no vote on the horticulture levy, welcomed Eustice’s comments.

“It is refreshing to hear someone agree with us that the result of the ballot, in which 61% of growers voted to abolish the levy, is straightforward.

Since the result was published too many people have tried to spin the result based on the amount of levy paid, something which we are pleased to see Defra has not tried to do.

“It is disappointing that those elected to represent the industry in the NFU have not been so clear in their analysis of the outcome.

“They should remember that the majority of those who voted in the ballot are also NFU members.”

Compulsory levy will end

Eustice confirmed that while some individual AHDB services may be retained on a voluntary basis for those who want them, the current compulsory levy on all horticultural businesses would end.

“There are things that the AHDB does that are widely valued by the horticulture sector, particularly their work on authorisations,” he said.

We’re exploring a range of different options so we can keep those elements… but also obviously respect the result and remove the current turnover levy.

Vegetable and potato grower John Bratley added: “We have always said that growers must not be forced to pay the levy, and that it amounts to unfair taxation without representation.

“Although the majority of growers clearly feel they gain no benefit from the AHDB, those who do feel it provides them with something are free to continue to support it, but that minority should not be able to force the majority of grower businesses to pay for it.

“Given the comments made by some interested parties over the last two weeks, it is refreshing to hear George Eustice give such a clear and unequivocal statement.”