Pearson said growers "must have a greater say in how the levy is spent" and in the fairness of a statutory levy but that the statutory instrument that governs the levy mechanism is outdated and requires parliamentary time to modernise it.
"The current ballots that are underway are a vote for or against the continuation of the statutory levy, but it is being perceived by growers as a vote on the future of the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the body responsible for administering the levy.
"We believe AHDB requires root and branch reform, but we would prefer to work with AHDB, on behalf of all growers, to try to achieve these reforms, rather than see a 'no vote' require the sector to start again to establish a new grower-focussed, applied research funding organisation."
He said the levy underpins the applied research in the £3,7bn sector "that is imperative to future innovations such as new fruit and vegetable varieties, new growing systems, new pest and disease work to reduce pesticide usage, research into workforce, skills development and knowledge sharing, water efficiency, irrigation, reduced energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.
The Growers’ Better Levy Group has proposed changes for the AHDB to make it an agile, grower-led component of the levy body serving levy payers through proper governance and transparency.
The group wants a meeting with Eustice before the ballot is declared on 18 February.
The Growers’ Better Levy Group:
Philip Pearson, APS Produce (Protected Edibles)
John Shropshire, Cambs Farms Growers Ltd (Field Vegetables)
Marion Regan, Hugh Lowe Farms (Soft fruit)
Angus Davison, Haygrove (Soft fruit)
Martin Emmett, Walberton Nursery, Binsted Nursery, Fleurie Nursery
James Broekhuizen, Cucumber Growers’ Association / Anchor Nurseries (Protected Edibles)
Sophie Bambridge, B&C Farming (Potatoes)
James Harrison, EG Harrison & Co. (Potatoes)
Tom Hulme, AC Hulme & Sons (Tree Fruit, Potatoes, Livestock, Combinable Crops)
Martin Evans, Fresh Growers Ltd (Field Vegetables)
Derek Wilkinson, Sandfields Farm Ltd (Field Vegetables)
John Chinn, Cobrey Farms (Asparagus, Potatoes, Soft fruit, Combinable Crops, Wine)
Philip Morley, British Tomato Growers’ Association / APS Produce Ltd (Protected Edibles)