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Spalding-area growers blast comments over horticulture and potato levy

Growers who led a campaign to abolish a statutory levy on horticulture and potato production have slammed comments suggesting the industry supports it.

Spalding flower grower Simon Redden, Quadring Eaudyke potato and vegetable grower John Bratley and Gosberton vegetable farmer Peter Thorold have become known as the AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) petitioners.

The three have expressed concern and disappointment at recent comments by NFU representatives and the Growers Better Levy Group.

AHDB petitioners Simon Redden, Peter Thorold and John Bratley
AHDB petitioners Simon Redden, Peter Thorold and John Bratley

Mr Bratley said: “In two decisive votes, two-thirds of growers across the horticulture and potato sectors unambiguously rejected the idea of a statutory levy.

"However, over the last three weeks we have seen comments which appear to be trying to re-write this result and replace one statutory levy with another.”

Speaking at the Festival of Fresh conference, NFU Horticulture & Potatoes board chair Ali Capper said: “I think the vast majority of growers see the necessity for some form of small statutory or mandatory levy.”

Her comments were questioned by Mr Bratley, who 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 per cent of horticulture growers and more than 66 per cent of potato growers rejected a compulsory levy, so it is unclear how Ms Capper can say the majority support it.”

In another development, the Growers’ Better Levy Group (GBLG), which represents 36 horticultural businesses, issued a statement which said: "The continuation of a small statutory levy is necessary to fund critical work."

Mr Thorold said: “The GBLG represents just three per cent of those businesses which 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.”

However, the AHDB Petitioners say they were emboldened by comments made by Defra Minister Victoria Prentiss at the Festival of Fresh when she said: “We must respect the result of the ballot.”

Mr Bratley added: “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."

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