AHDB Levy Ballot Scheduled for 2021
At the beginning of October, AHDB confirmed that the number of requests for an official ballot on the levy had exceeded the required threshold but also suggested that, due to the need to appoint an independent company to administer the process, the vote itself would not take place until January 2021.
The ballot was described as “the elephant in the room,” by AHDB Chair, Nicholas Saphir at the online FPJ Live event. Saphir added: “AHDB is duty-bound to call a ballot and it is the first ballot that has been called in the history of AHDB. The program will have to be developed on how the ballot is called. We are duty-bound to appoint an independent overseer which is in process now, we then have to verify who is entitled to vote, we have to send out voting papers and we have to allow some time for the arguments to be developed on both sides. My guess is we will see a ballot take place early in January.”
The length of time that AHDB says is necessary to organize the ballot has been questioned by the petitioners who organized the request for a ballot.
Spalding-based flower grower and co-organizer Simon Redden commented: “We trust that AHDB will not use this ‘verification process’ to deny a vote to those growers who have paid the levy prior to the publication of the Defra review, but due to the challenging economic conditions caused by the weather and COVID-19 in 2019/20 may currently be in arrears in their current levy payments. Such growers must not be disenfranchised at this crucial time.”
However, the petitioners welcomed comments by Saphir that both sides of the argument would have the chance to put their views to levy payers before the ballot.
Vegetable and potato farmer John Bratley commented: “We have been worried that, as AHDB have always denied us access to the full list of levy payers, they are in a position to spread their own propaganda while denying us a hearing. We welcome Saphir’s comments that the arguments from both sides will be put forward and we wait to see how this will be achieved.”
Even though the results of this ballot are not binding on ministers, failure to recognize them, or to implement the reform, which is clearly necessary, will be seen as a slap in the face by horticulture and the wider farming industry, the petitioners say.