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Potato farmers reject levy

AHDB’s future is under further threat after farmers voted to scrap the Board’s role in collecting a statutory levy on the UK’s potato sector.

The vote is the second against the status quo in recent months.

In February, AHDB announced the result of a ballot of members in the horticulture sector.
In that ballot, the No vote was 61 per cent versus the Yes vote of 39 per cent. 

Voting analysis by UK Engage according to the value of levy paid showed a reverse picture of 57 per cent Yes votes versus No votes of 43 per cent.

AHDB Chair Nicholas Saphir said: “The voting information reported by UK Engage shows different sentiment across different crop sectors and size of business – it is really a very complex picture.”

In fact, the position is simple: larger businesses favoured retaining the levy, smaller producers opposed the status quo.

The vote’s basis was one levy payer, one vote.

The call for a ballot on the continuation of a statutory levy in the potato sector came late last year and a yes/no vote started in mid-February, based on one levy payer, one vote. 

An independent company, UK Engage, administered the voting process.

The overall voter turnout was 64 per cent with 1,196 eligible votes cast. The No vote against the continuation of a levy was 66.4 per cent versus the Yes vote of 33.6 per cent.

Voting analysis by UK Engage according to the value of levy paid showed a similar picture of 63.2 per cent No votes versus Yes votes of 36.8 per cent.

Splitting the result into the two separate potato levies – the potato buyer levy and the potato grower levy – overall buyers voted 82.1 per cent No and 17.9 per cent Yes. The growers voted 64.3 per cent No and 35.7 per cent Yes.

AHDB Chair Nicholas Saphir said: “I’m deeply disappointed. The voting information reported by UK Engage shows that a clear majority of the potato industry feels they are not getting enough value from the current levy set-up.

“It is now down to Ministers to weigh up all the various factors about GB potato industry and make a decision on the future role of a statutory potato levy.”

The ballot outturn report by UK Engage, the independent company which ran the ballot, has been published on the AHDB website.

The ballot process, laid out in Statute, means that a ballot is held in order to inform Ministers how the industry feels on the value of a statutory levy. 

The ballot’s result must be passed to Defra Ministers and the Devolved Administrations to decide on the future. 

However, they are not bound by the ballot.

Defra Minister Victoria Prentis MP said: “We will now take these results and scrutinise them closely before making a decision on the future of the Potato levy.

“A joint decision with Scottish and Welsh Ministers will be made after the Scottish and Welsh government elections.

“In the meantime, AHDB will continue to collect levy returns for the 2021/22 year.”