Changes to the way top-fruit growers' levy to the Horticultural Development Company (HDC) is calculated, and the possible extension of the levy to cider apple growers, are currently being pursued with the Government.
HDC director Dr Bill Parker told top-fruit growers at a meeting in Kent last month (31 March) that the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), which oversees all six agricultural levy bodies, is pursuing Defra "on a whole range of issues that it wants resolved".
He explained that devolution has created anomalies, particularly in the meat sector, and that "apples will get sorted as part of the wrap-up". This would require statutory changes that are in the hands of Defra, he pointed out, adding: "It's up the agenda, but whether it's got the impetus to move forward is anyone's guess."
Currently the levy on top-fruit growers is based on their turnover rather than the area of their orchards, calculated at 0.5 per cent of sales above a £60,000 threshold.
The AHDB has requested a reduction in the threshold and suggested the removal of exemptions on cider apples. "One of our aims is to bring them into the levy," said Parker.
A Defra representative confirmed: "If the changes are taken forward following the general election that will require changes to legislation - AHDB Order 2008 - and so a consultation will be held."
Sector levy - Tree fruit
The Horticultural Development Company raises just over £0.5m from the tree-fruit sector, accounting for eight per cent of its income.
The majority of this money is spent on crop protection, such as a new five-year £700,000 project to develop integrated pest management programmes for tree fruit pests and diseases.