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Spalding-area growers urge others to vote in board ballot

Growers opposed to the continuation of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) in the horticultural sector have urged others to make their voices heard.

They say proposed reforms to the levy body do not go far enough and are “too little, too late”.

Ballot papers were sent by AHDB to levy payers last month, and those growers who have paid their current levy (or have a deferral agreement) now have until next Wednesday, February 10 to vote on whether the levy board continues for horticulture.

OPPOSERS: John Bratley, Simon Redden, and Peter Thorold.
OPPOSERS: John Bratley, Simon Redden, and Peter Thorold.

Growers opposed to the current system argue that only a decisive vote can deliver the dynamic and market-based approach to research and development that the horticultural industry needs, citing the model that has been successfully adopted in The Netherlands since they abolished their own horticultural levy organisation in 2015.

They believe that moves by some growers and grower organisations to push AHDB Horticulture into further reforms actually show that AHDB is incapable of the serious reform required.

Spalding-based flower grower Simon Redden said: “Despite six months of consultation, AHDB has failed to come up with reform proposals that satisfy even its most ardent supporters within the industry.

“The fact that those who are already most involved with the current AHDB structure say their plans don’t go far enough shows just how out of touch the organisation is.

“AHDB simply doesn’t understand the modern horticultural industry and how competitive it is.”

He also accused AHDB of not understanding its own proposals for levy-reform, saying that different growers had been told different things at different online meetings.

“At one meeting a vegetable grower was told that if he received no benefit from AHDB, he would pay zero levy, while at the next meeting a flower grower in the same situation was told he would have to keep subsidising research for his direct competitors,” added Simon.

“How can one type of cabbage be different from another, but completely different species, such as lilies and chrysanthemums be the same? If AHDB can’t understand their own levy proposals, how can anyone else?”

Campaigners against the organisation have also criticised the way that the organisation has sought to justify its own existence since the ballot was called.

Gosberton vegetable farmer Peter Thorold said: “AHDB has cynically spent our levy, which should have been put towards funding research and development, on a campaign seeking to justify its continued existence.

“Substantial sums of our money have been used to create glossy brochures, webinars and online videos for self-promotion.

“AHDB has been claiming to have engaged with around 1,000 levy payers over the last six weeks, but we haven’t seen evidence of that level of interaction.There have been seven virtual ‘town hall meetings’, and those that we have attended have had 35-40 attendees, of which around half have been levy payers, so we estimate the meetings have only reached some 150 levy payers in total. If correct, this shows a dismal lack of engagement with growers.”

Quadring Eaudyke vegetable and potato grower John Bratley stressed that it is vital that all growers vote in the ballot.

He said: “Whatever the outcome, for this vote to have real legitimacy, there needs to be a significant turnout and we urge every eligible grower in the UK to vote.

“Even those supporting the continuation of the levy have said that plans for reform, such as they are, would need to be put to a future vote.

“We believe growers should make the most of this opportunity and vote to abolish an organisation which is out of date, out of touch, and struggling to come up with a meaningful agenda for reform.”

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