Opinion

Letter to the editor: It’s now time to ‘dissolve AHDB horticulture and punitive levy’

I’m writing to you as a carrot grower, an Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) levy payer and chair of the British Carrot Growers’ Association.

My AHDB horticulture levy cheque is £20,000, which was more than our operating profit last year, that’s a lot from a family business operating in a sector where margins are around 1-2%.

And it’s money that, in many vegetable growers’ opinions, is not needed for the crop – this is based on my first-hand involvement on the Carrot R&D committee for the last 10 years.

Field vegetables is a mature sector with limited scope for academic and theoretical research.

‘A bizarre one-sided ballot campaign’

So we have just witnessed a bizarre one-sided AHDB horticulture ballot campaign with double page adverts backing “Yes” in all the trade press, together with direct mailshots to all voters about why to vote “Yes” and town hall meetings to endorse “Yes”.

This Putinesque media campaign was paid for by our own levy contributions.

Notwithstanding this, on Monday, my field vegetable growing colleagues and myself were delighted to discover that the levy paying electorate had voted 61% to 39% to end this punitive and unconstructive tax; however, the AHDB’s announcement immediately pointed out that, by re-weighting the votes [by levy contribution and amalgamated across sectors], then they could prove the opposite result. A fellow carrot grower remarked “I think they have been watching Trump”.

Clearly it is now time for the Growers and Grower Associations to take back control of our research programmes making them more relevant and more valuable.

We have the means to fund them autonomously. In this way we will show a commitment to the environment and food security through applied research.

It was always flawed to combine such a diverse range of crops and businesses under one autocratic organisation.

I commend to the farming minister to respect democracy, the letter of the vote and dissolve AHDB Horticulture and the punitive levy.

From Rodger Hobson, chairman of the British Carrot Growers Association.