Levy rate could increase by 50%

HTA head questions DEFRA's call for "headroom"

By Matthew Appleby The levy rate on horticulture could rise by 50 per cent if DEFRA proposals come into effect in April 2008. Last week, DEFRA released “Partial regulatory impact assessment to accompany the consultation on the draft Statutory Instrument —Levy Board UK Order 2007”, a consultation document on the future of the new Levy Board UK, which is due to replace the five levy boards including the HDC in April 2008. The aim of the increase is to give “headroom” in case levy-payers want the levy board to broaden its work into promotion as well as research and development. Grower John Middleton of Hampshire-based Shelley Common Nursery said if the increase comes in it would be “another nail in the coffin of our profitability”. HTA director general David Gwyther said: “I can see no reason why they should have that headroom. If they want to raise the levy they should apply through the proper channels — a 50 per cent increase is extremely concerning.” He added: “We would like to see activity restricted to research and development to improve productivity for hard-pressed growers and changing legislation.” HDC chief executive Martin Beckenham said raising the levy was not in HDC plans: “There has been no pressing desire from growers to do more. The balance seems about right with slightly more work to be done than money available. “We’re getting more pests with climate change and withdrawals of pesticides, so there’s plenty of work to be done.” The HTA met new levy board chairman John Hall this week to clarify what the HDC business plan is — “otherwise there will be some concerned growers out there”, Gwyther said.

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