20 December 2021
"Growers best placed to decide own R&D"
GROWERS who organised last year's ballot to abolish the statutory levy on potato production in the UK have lashed out at the Growers Better Levy Group (GBLG), claiming comments about the current Defra consultation are patronising to growers.
The GBLG recently wrote to Defra urging it to support a new, grower levy-funded body to lead future R&D projects for the horticulture and potato sectors. It stated that R&D work in horticulture and potatoes should continue, but should be funded by a grower levy raised by Defra and not be led by the AHDB. It called for a new organisation to take its place.
Lincolnshire potato and vegetable grower John Bratley said: “There are a number of issues with the latest statements by the GBLG, but the biggest is that it ignores that fact that almost 490 levy payers have already voted against the continuation of a statutory levy. That applies irrespective of who that levy is paid to.
“By its own admission, the GBLG is ‘not a democratically elected board’ and represents just 3% of those horticulture businesses that were eligible to vote on the continuation of a levy at the end of 2020. In terms of the potato sector, it represents just three growers out of 1,860 eligible voters. Once again, we have a very small minority trying to tell growers and Defra what is best for individual and highly diverse grower businesses. We know from the comments we have received from hundreds of growers that they know what is best for their own businesses.”
John said the period following the demise of AHDB in the horticulture and potatoes sector had given businesses the chance to take stock and prioritise their R&D needs and many vegetable growers were more concerned about farmgate prices than technological innovation.
"Post-AHDB growers finally have £13 million in saved levy (as well the £40 million that Producer Organisations will receive annually) to spend as they see fit on their own R&D priorities. It must also be remembered that the substantial tax relief available on such spending would be lost with any statutory levy scheme.”
In recent months a number of organisations in the research and advisory fields have begun to approach grower groups about their research needs, and the signs are that a much more focused and dynamic industry approach to R&D is beginning to evolve, John and his fellow campaigners stated, adding that direct dialogue between growers and researchers would be undermined by the reintroduction of any new levy body.