Defra has confirmed it will end the statutory AHDB levy in the horticulture sector from next month – despite receiving a “mixed” response to the proposal in a public consultation.
The results of a joint consultation (PDF) by the UK government and devolved administrations on proposals to deliver legislative reforms to the AHDB Order were published on Tuesday (8 March).
The consultation ran for almost two months and closed on 10 January.
Opinions were split across the 470 responses about the proposal to end the statutory horticulture Ievy in Britain from April 2022.
In total, 32.3% agreed with ending the levy, whereas 28.5% disagreed; 37.2% said it was “not applicable” and 2% did not answer.
This is in contrast to the 61% of AHDB horticulture levy payers who voted to end the levy when asked the same question in an AHDB ballot in February 2021
Defra said the response to this proposal, which was included in the consultation, was mixed.
“Views ranged widely from those who said the outcome of the democratic ballot to end the levy must be respected, to those who wanted the statutory levy mechanism amended [rather than removed] so it might be applied to subsectors in the future,” said Defra.
“Others supported a statutory levy but not delivered [by] another grower-led organisation and not by the AHDB.”
Nearly half (49.6%) of all 470 responses wanted to see the AHDB pesticide application service continue.
Potato levy to end
In March 2021, in a separate ballot, some 66% of 1,196 AHDB potato levy payers voted to end the potato levy. However, the proposal to end the potato levy was supported by 74.8% of respondents in Defra’s consultation.
After considering all the responses to the consultation, Defra confirmed it will remove the statutory provisions for these two sectors, primarily related to applied research and development, from the AHDB Order.
“This will end the one-size-fits-all approach to these levies, which is no longer appropriate given the diverse nature of these sectors,” Defra said.
Defra has also ruled out a proposal put forward by a group of UK producers, known as the Growers’ Better Levy Group (GBLG), to introduce a new, grower levy-funded body to lead future R&D projects for the horticulture and potato sectors.
Defra concluded this would be a “difficult and lengthy process due to the considerable governance and regulatory requirements that now sit around statutory levy bodies”.
But it remains keen to continue engagement with members of GBLG and others to discuss other industry-led funding options.
Meanwhile, a proposal to increase the levy rate in the English sheep sector by 25% to help deliver additional services was not well supported. Therefore, Defra has decided to shelve this plan, at least for now.
Defra has also confirmed it will improve accountability to levy payers through a new regular vote on sector plans at least once every five years.
Register now for spring vote on future of AHDB
AHDB levy payers are being urged to register now to have their say on how funds are spent in the future.
The vote will give levy payers the opportunity to indicate three areas:
- What they think AHDB should focus on
- What AHDB does that they value
- How they would like their money invested.
Registration closes at 12pm on 31 March 2022.