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‘Levy working group’ set up to push for AHDB reform

Major growers form independent, grower-led alliance to demand extensive reforms to R&D bodyís Horticulture and Potatoes divisions

‘Levy working group’ set up to push for AHDB reform

Dr Philip Morley

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Prominent producers across horticulture and potatoes have joined forces to form a group that supports the continuation of the statutory levy administered by AHDB while pushing for reforms to go “further and faster” than proposed in the R&D body’s recently published five-year strategy.

The Horticulture & Potatoes Future Statutory Levy Working Group, which was first formed in the summer of 2020, has been established voluntarily “to work together for the benefit of all levy-paying businesses”, said one of the members, Dr Philip Morley of the British Tomato Growers’ Association and APS Produce. He explained that the group wants to work together with the AHDB to drive reform.

The announcement comes ahead of two ‘yes or no’ votes on the future of Statutory Levy administered by AHDB Horticulture and AHDB Potatoes, set to take place in January and February respectively. The horticulture ballot begins on 13 January, with online voting open for two weeks.

Morley added: “We have been in conversation with senior members of AHDB, including chairman Nicholas Saphir, and commend the changes he is trying to make, especially the introduction of an automatic five-yearly ballot. It is our belief that the proposed changes need to go further and faster.

“We believe in the fairness and value of a statutory levy and that our industry should work collaboratively to achieve market-led innovation, near-market-applied R&D, increased productivity and a world-class sustainable industry.”

The group – which includes representatives from the likes of APS Produce, Hugh Lowe Farms, Cambs Farms Growers and B & C Farming – says it “presents considered alternatives and draws inspiration from the successful levy models established in Australia and New Zealand”.

In horticulture, the group represents about 11 per cent of the current horticulture levy payments made by growers.

Ultimately, the group’s aim is to help develop a workable alternative to the current AHDB model, with the aim of delivering better value for money and organisational and financial transparency for levy-paying businesses. 

Morley said the group would welcome engagement with and contributions to this process from other levy payers. 

Setting out its strategy the group stresses that levy payers must “take back control” of their investment funds and provide the strategic leadership within a lean and agile decision-making framework. The AHDB must work with us to enable this, it said.

According to the working group, this will be achieved through:

- Root-and-branch reform of the existing levy organisation for horticulture and potatoes.

- All levies raised, budgets and costs should be transparent to levy payers, regularly scrutinised and subject to Panel and Sector Board approval.

- Overhaul of the governance of the existing levy organisation, which should include a review of the Radcliffe Report and the previous constitutions of HDC and a commitment to a Sector Board and Panels for Horticulture.

- More focus on levy-funded near-market R&D, supported by leveraged funding for strategic and fundamental science.

- R&D reports online should be more easily accessible to all levy payers.

- Market development should be nuanced after panel consultation and only implemented for those sectors where it is required.

- Co-funding mechanisms must be introduced and encouraged to secure additional funding from the whole supply chain, government and research bodies. This will require entrepreneurism to leverage these funding sources to complement and magnify levy payers’ funds.

Aspects which the group says will require a change in the statutory instrument include:

- Levy is grower ‘investment’, not public money.

- The levy collection and deduction system should reflect modern practices.

- Levy paying members should nominate or elect their “Board” and “Panel” representatives ensuring accountability, budget control and sound strategy. They should not be appointed.

- Levy payments should receive R&D tax relief or credits in line with private investment.

The group hopes the outcome of these proposed changes will be a grower-led levy body serving levy payers through proper governance and transparency. 

“This will deliver a world-leading, investor funded service which returns significant and measurable benefits to levy paying investors in a highly challenging and fast-evolving primary food and plant production landscape,” Morley said.

Responding to the group’s formation, AHDB chairman Nicholas Saphir said: “We welcome the feedback from the Horticulture and Potatoes Future Statutory Levy Working Group. We have had some meaningful and significant conversations over the last couple of months. We appreciate their positive and proactive approach to helping shape the future of both sectors during a time of great change. 

“They have put forward some important recommendations for developing the structure of AHDB’s Horticulture and Potato sectors going forward to support greatly improved levy payer engagement in planning of programmes, agreeing budgets and recommending levies. 

“We look forward to maintaining and developing our open lines of communication with the working group and welcome the opportunity to have very important opportunities to further develop the delivery programme for change if there is a yes vote at the forthcoming ballot.”

Among others, the group’s members include:

Philip Pearson – APS Produce (protected edibles)

Marion Regan – Hugh Lowe Farms (soft fruit)

Martin Emmett – Walberton Nursery,  Binsted Nursery, Fleurie Nursery (ornamentals)

Sophie Bambridge – B & C Farming (potatoes) 

James Harrison – EG Harrison & Co. (potatoes)

Tom Hulme – AC Hulme & Sons (tree fruit)

Martin Evans – Fresh Growers (field vegetables)

John Shropshire – Cambs Farms Growers (field vegetables)

Derek Wilkinson – Sandfields Farm (field vegetables)

Philip Morley – British Tomato Growers’ Association, APS Produce (protected edibles)

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