The horticulture sector has voted against the continuation of statutory AHDB levies by a considerable margin, as a ballot on the future of the potato sector levy gets underway. The levy collects some £7 million each year.

The horticulture ballot, based on one vote per levy payer, was administered by the independent company UK Engage. Of the 69% that voted, 61% were against the levy continuing with 39% in favour. The vote is advisory – it is to inform Defra ministers as to what happens next. But it represents a clear dissatisfaction with the present system.

The AHDB claims that analysing the vote by the value of levy paid by voter businesses shows that 57% voted in favour of the levy with 43% against. “The voting information reported by UK Engage shows different sentiment across different crop sectors and size of business – it is really a very complex picture,” says AHDB chairman Nicholas Saphir. “It is now down to Ministers to weigh up all the various factors about GB horticulture and make a decision on the future role of a horticulture levy.”

Speaking for the NFU, its horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper said: “This vote demonstrates that many growers feel either disappointed or disengaged with how their levy is being spent. It will also be a disappointing result for those that see the importance in the principle of a statutory levy and the value that applied research and development can deliver for their businesses.

“A number of businesses have come out in support of the statutory levy in the past few weeks, albeit with necessary reforms of AHDB. This shows just how divided levy payers have become and makes it critically important that Ministers consider carefully how to respect all sides of the debate.

“It is important that the business innovation that comes from R&D and the business-critical work on plant protection products are not removed where there remains a need.”

The AHDB ballot of its 1,500 potato levy payers, who collectively pay £6.6m, began this week and closes on March 17th.