Claims that AHDB reforms do not go far enough

Reforms promised in the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board’s (AHDB) new strategy document do not go far enough - and offer little to the horticultural and potato sectors, it has been claimed.

That was the view of English growers who are looking to end the board’s levy raising powers and operations in these sectors of the industry across the UK.

The group, which last week successfully lodged a call for a levy–payer ballot amongst potato growers, yesterday claimed that their own survey of over 650 growers had shown that 92% of respondents felt current policies were of 'no or only marginal' use to their businesses.

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Potato grower and ballot co-organiser John Bratley, who grows between 220 and 280 ha of the crop each year, also claimed that 80% of growers did not want to pay a statutory levy.

“Like many growers I receive little or no benefit from the levy and, as I am in competition with other growers, AHDB’s policy of ‘knowledge exchange’ for everyone means that any technical advice which will give me a competitive advantage has to come from elsewhere,” said Bratley. Stating that potato growers currently pay £42.62 per planted hectare, with their customers paying a further 18.58 pence per tonne of the crop purchased, he said that because the levy was paid on a planted area, it did not reflect yields, crop losses or crops which had failed to find a buyer.

“Like our colleagues in horticulture, potato growers are fed up with being forced to pay for an overly bureaucratic organisation which offers little or no benefit to professional growers who are increasingly working to secure a larger share of the same overall market,” he said.

“AHDB simply fails to understand the commercial reality of how growers’ markets work.

"In terms of its recently published plans for the next five years, where are the radical changes that both Defra and growers have been asking for?”

He also claimed that the consultation revealed no changes to the levy system for at least 18 months. The group also stated that the strategy failed to recognise that if growers or their associations organised research, then they would be entitled to 230% tax relief – a benefit which was lost to the industry with AHDB funding of research and development.

*At an on-line event hosted several thousand miles away from wrangling over the AHDB’s role, a leading Scottish potato scientist told the World Potato Council in the US that gene-editing could play a major role in moving the industry forward.

Although he conceded that this would require a change in legislation in the United Kingdom.

Comparing developments in the potato world to those made in the automotive industry over the past century, Dr. Mark Taylor, Co-leader of Potato Genetics and Molecular Physiology at Scotland’s Ja mes Hutton Institute, told delegates that breeders had a lot of catching up to do.

However linking new breeding technologies with genomic selection could, he said, dramatically increase the speed of change.