POTATO, vegetable and flower growers who led the campaign to abolish a statutory levy on potato and horticulture production, have expressed concern and disappointment by recent comments by NFU and Growers Better Levy Group representatives which they say suggest the industry supports a compulsory levy.
Lincolnshire potato and vegetable grower John Bratley said: “In two decisive votes, two-thirds of growers rejected the idea of a statutory levy but in recent weeks he has seen comments which appear "to be trying to re-write this result and replace one statutory levy with another”. He referred to comments by NFU Horticulture & Potatoes board chair Ali Capper at the recent Festival of Fresh conference and a GBLG statement which suggested a small statutory levy was necessary to fund critical work.
John said: “The vast majority of growers rejected the idea of a statutory levy. After all, the ballot was on the continuation of a compulsory levy, not the structure of the AHDB. Almost 61% of horticulture growers and more than 66% of potato growers rejected a compulsory levy.”
Spalding-based vegetable farmer Peter Thorold added: “The GBLG represents just 3% of those businesses that were eligible to vote on the continuation of a statutory levy. They may well wish to jointly establish and fund their own non-statutory body for their own R&D. However, they must not be allowed to have their research needs subsidised by an industry-wide statutory levy which growers have overwhelmingly rejected.
“In funding their own R&D they will be able to claim substantial tax relief which is not available under a statutory scheme. That in itself makes a bureaucratic statutory scheme a bad deal.”
The petitioners say they were gratified by Defra Minister Victoria Prentiss's comments, also made at the Festival of Fresh, when she said: “We must respect the result of the ballot.”
John said: “It is good to hear that Defra at least recognises the strength of feeling from the industry and understands that the votes were a clear rejection of a statutory levy, which is in effect an additional and unnecessary tax on horticultural businesses.”