Ballot request could be springboard for change says AHDB

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THE call for a ballot on the continuation of the potatoes levy is "timely" according to a press release from the AHDB, which says it is seeking and "honest and robust dialogue" with the industry for its future strategy.

Potatoes sector board Interim Chair Alison Levett said she hopes to have constructive conversations with grower and buyer levy payers about how the £5.8 million a year levy is used over the next five years.

She also said AHDB is looking at alternative ways of calculating the potatoes levy, as it is currently based solely on planted area and does not take into account when crops are lost or destroyed. The new strategy will propose a new ‘claw back’ repayment mechanism for growers to claim in the event of crop loss - for example as a result of floods.

She said the review of the levy calculation is part of a broader commitment to change to better deliver services to meet levy payers’ needs.

Alison said: “While we are confident we can demonstrate our investment of the levy has brought tangible benefits for individual growers and the industry as a whole, we fully recognise the need to be responsive to the significant challenges ahead. This is a time of momentous change and uncertainty for the industry, in terms of trade agreements, regulations regarding chemical inputs, forthcoming changes to farm payments and public goods. In developing the potato sector strategy, potato board members have emphasised the need for programmes of work to be future-focused and increasingly address environmental issues.

“We hope that potato levy payers will reflect on the unique and central role AHDB plays in solving issues that individual farmers, processors or a single sector potato body would not be able to fund.”

Alison cited the £3 million invested in potatoes storage research following the loss of CIPC, including a Storage Network offering free one-to-one advice. She also referenced advances in soil health, fertiliser and water use showcased during AHDB’s Agronomy Week and AHDB's work to secure key export markets for seed potatoes after the EU exit. 

Alison’s comments come after growers Simon Redden, Peter Thorold and John Bratley balloted growers about their views of AHDB and the levy. Requests now need to be validated by AHDB to see if a formal ballot process needs to be triggered, with a threshold of 103 requests from businesses who have paid levy in the past 12 months. If so, the ballot will be a simple yes/no vote on the continuation of the potatoes levy.

AHDB Chair Nicholas Saphir said: “The ballot is not a means for expressing discontent with the way levy is collected or spent or how AHDB operates, it is solely about whether AHDB will continue to deliver statutory levy-funded services and products to the potatoes sector or not. Lose it and we lose the ability to collectively invest in the collective challenges that lie ahead from climate change, including sprays, chemicals, IPM and zero carbon. Lose it and we lose the collective investment in R&D generally, storage and disease prevention. Finally we lose collective evidence that allows decisions to be made and productivity benchmarked.
“Discussions about our change programme, our package of activities and where the levy is best spent are part of our five commitments to levy payers and the feedback we’re seeking from industry on the new strategy. We are urging potatoes growers to get involved and voice their views.”

There will be a ‘town hall’ meeting about the strategy for the potatoes sector on January 7th.