Horticulture ballot: FAQs

Find out why the Horticulture Ballot took place. You'll also find information on the next stage in the process and links to more details about the current levy spend.

Frequently asked questions

Defra is co-ordinating the process of getting a decision from Ministers in England, Wales and Scotland. We don’t know how long this will take. 

The earliest we may possibly expect a confirmed decision would be after the upcoming Scottish and Welsh Government elections in May. This might mean that no decisions will be made until the summer at the earliest.

Ministers will make the decision on the future of the levy. AHDB immediately informed ministers of the outturn from the ballot, but they are not bound by this. The decision on whether or not a levy continues will ultimately rest with ministers.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, confirmed in a recent interview with Farmers Weekly that Parliament will revisit the legislation to remove the levies on Horticulture and Potatoes.

The official ministerial decision is not expected until early summer.

Defra Minister Victoria Prentis 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 from the industry for the 2021/22 year.”

In an interview with Farmers Weekly, Environment Secretary George Eustice has said that Parliament will revisit the legislation to remove the levies on Horticulture and Potatoes.

Legally AHDB must impose a levy unless directed otherwise by Ministers or unless the Statutory Instrument is changed.

The AHDB Board clearly understands there has been an emphatic levy payer vote against the current levy system. AHDB is in a difficult situation.  Without a Ministerial decision, AHDB is legally bound to start the process to collect the levy without clarity for everyone on the future of a levy.

The levy rates to be charged in both Potatoes and Horticulture are being reviewed for 2021-22, and this will be completed prior to levy invoices being issued.  2021/22 will not be business as usual for these sectors and we will be focusing on covering the existing liabilities plus costs associated with delivering any ministerial decision, alongside dealing with any critical matters such as the Extension of Authorisation for Minor Use (EAMU) programme and emergency crop protection work.

We recognise the recent outturn of the horticulture ballot may have raised questions as to this year's levy return. The final decision on the future of AHDB horticulture work and levy collection lies with government Ministers and we await their decision. At this time the statutory levy remains in place and we are legally obligated to collect the levy and any outstanding debt from prior years.

Levy returns will be going out shortly, however invoices won’t be issued until after a decision is known. The levy rates to be invoiced will be contingent on the Ministerial decision on the future of AHDB Horticulture and AHDB Potatoes.

Both sectors will immediately stop all capital expenditure. Ongoing research projects will continue in the short term to allow considered assessments to be made regarding their future.

As mentioned above, we will be focusing on covering the existing liabilities plus costs associated with delivering any ministerial decision, alongside dealing with any critical matters such as the Extension of Authorisation for Minor Use (EAMU) programme and emergency crop protection work.

AHDB does not know who has voted in the Ballot. 

No individual identifiable information has been communicated to AHDB by UK Engage. As professional election scrutineers, UK Engage are not permitted to release any data that identifies individual voters. 

As part of the voting process, when levy paying businesses completed their voting form, they were asked to complete what primary crop they grow is. This has allowed UK Engage to provide a breakdown of the data so that ministers are able to make an informed decision on the future of AHDB Horticulture.

Our duty throughout the ballot process was to ensure levy payers knew a ballot is taking place, that the binary nature of the ballot question was appreciated and what a Yes and a No vote would mean, understand how their levy is spent so they can make an informed choice, and also to encourage as many as possible to exercise their right to vote. 

Unfortunately, we have also needed to correct some inaccurate information that was promoted within the media.  

Our recent research across our sectors has confirmed that levy payers wish to receive information presented across a variety of channels to meet their decision-making needs – including print, digital, face-to-face, trade press, post and email. The research also told us that a multi-channel approach is the most effective way of engaging with everyone. This is the approach we have put into practice through letters, website information, printed material, trade press briefing and advertorials and town hall meetings. 

In all, including the services of the independent ballot company, UK Engage, we expect the total external costs for running both the Horticulture and Potato ballots to come in at just under £60,000. This works out at approximately £16 per levy payer voter.

  • The legislation under which AHDB operates (The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Order 2008) allows for levy payers, from 1 April 2012, to request a ballot on the continuance of a levy
  • If 5% of levy payers request a ballot within any three-month period, then AHDB must hold a ballot
  • There are just under 1400 levy-paying businesses in horticulture, which means 64 businesses needed to request a ballot
  • On 6 October 2020, AHDB confirmed that it had received enough valid requests from horticulture growers and would be holding a ballot on the horticulture levy in January 2021

Find out more on the levy.

The ballot on the horticulture levy opened on 13 January 2021 and closed at midnight on 10 February 2021.

  • Levy payers have had time to make an informed choice to understand the pros and cons of what they are voting on
  • It has given AHDB time to go through a formal public procurement process to engage a company to run the ballot independently and transparently
  • It has avoided running a vote over the Christmas period
  • In Horticulture –
    • Any person or business that had paid the horticulture levy within the previous 12-month period from the end of the ballot (10 February 2021)
  • There was one vote per business, regardless of size or turnover
  • Each business had to decide who was going to cast that vote (e.g. if it is a partnership, only one person could vote)
  • Unfortunately, the simple answer is no. The statutory levy by its nature is set out in law and the legal definition of a levy payer is any person or business that has paid their horticulture levy within the previous 12-month period from the closing date of the ballot (10 February 2021)
  • However, AHDB recognised that this would be unfair to those who needed to access deferment plans. The payment of this nominal amount ensured that everyone had the ability to vote

Where a levy payment had not been made within the previous 12 months from the closing date of the ballot (10 February 2021), a levy-payer business had the option to make a nominal £50 levy payment to ensure voting qualification, so long as the levy-payer business had in place an agreed payment plan with AHDB for any outstanding levy invoice(s).

  • The question was:

    Do you agree that the statutory horticulture levy (including the mushroom levy) should continue?

  • By default this was a vote on the continuation or stopping of the technical work delivered by AHDB Horticulture

  • The ballot also asked levy payers to confirm the category of horticultural crops that they grow to enable the results to also be reported by crop category, to assist Ministers in their decision-making

  • UK Engage, the independent company that was appointed to run the ballot to ensure due diligence, gave levy payers the option to cast their vote by post or online
  • Details on how to cast votes were communicated by post, newsletters and the What do I get for my levy? brochure

It’s important to be very clear that AHDB did not promote either a YES or a NO vote. Our duty was to ensure levy payers knew that a ballot was taking place, that the binary nature of the ballot question was appreciated and what a Yes and a No vote would mean, understand how their levy is spent so they could make an informed choice, and also to encourage as many as possible to exercise their right to vote.

  • The ‘voting count’ and ‘ministerial decision’ are classed as two separate things:
    • The ‘voting count or outturn’ is the outcome of counting the ballots. This will be derived from the total number of YES and NO votes
  • The ‘result’ is the decision of Ministers on the future of a Horticulture Levy. AHDB must immediately inform ministers of the outturn of the ballot, but ministers are not bound by this. In other words, whatever the outturn of the ballot, the decision on whether or not a levy continues will ultimately rest with ministers

At present, the Statutory Instrument (which is the legislation under which AHDB operates) allows for: 

  • A ballot can be called in a sector, at any time, by either the AHDB Board or by Ministers
  • Levy payers can trigger a ballot if 5%+ of levy payers in a sector request one. However, once a ballot has run, levy payers themselves cannot trigger another one in that sector for five years 

The current statutory instrument only allows for a yes / no question on the continuation of a statutory levy.  

We made a commitment in summer 2020, to move to holding regular ballots which will take place, perhaps every five years. This requires a change in the legislation governing AHDB. Defra and the Devolved Administrations are working up the detail of how a regular ballot may operate include the question or questions that may be asked. Initial discussions have suggested the first ballot might be five-years on from the Defra-led Request for Views on AHDB.

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