Urging UK industry to get involved, new organisation stresses urgency to act now

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‘If, as an industry, we don’t take this opportunity no one else will on our collective behalf.’

A ‘GROWING number’ of people from all sectors of the British potato industry have already signed up to a newly-formed cross-industry governing body which is looking to fill a ‘void’ left by the AHDB while better channeling ideas and funding into the industry’s needs.

But more are being urged to sign up if the body is to succeed. “If, as industry we don’t take this opportunity no one else will on our collective behalf” the body has stressed.

 

GB Potatoes Organisation has come into being after a year in the making, with the aim of being a united front to represent the industry’s interests through joined-up and coordinated research, ideas exchange, defending the reputation of the industry and lobbying activity. A member-only organisation, it will offer a voluntary subscription which it believes is more in line with what people can afford and need.

 

Mark Taylor, Chairman of the Fresh Potato Suppliers Association, is one of nine volunteers who make up GB Potatoes current working group. Other group members include Lincolnshire grower Alex Godfrey, North Norfolk grower James Harrison, seed specialists Tony and Sophie Bambridge, Herefordshire grower John Chinn, Pembroke grower Walter Simon, Scottish grower Euan Grewar and Agrico’s Archie Gibson.

 

“We came together as nine enthusiasts who did not want the industry to lose its representation,” said Mark. “We did not want to overstep or prescribe our own views on what the industry should or shouldn’t do in the future. We want to help it to shape its own future and provide the relevant support to get the organisation off the ground. Handing over to the new Governing Board will allow future direction and priorities to be set. The organisation is open to applications to join the Governing Board, please get in touch.

 

“From a member point of view, it has to be affordable. People did not think the old levy was. As well as being too expensive, they felt the AHDB had lost touch with levy payers. We want to reconnect with the whole industry.

 

“The next step, which we are well on with, is to recruit a governing board. It is very important to get the right representation.”

 

The board will be made up of seven growers, six representatives from the fresh ware, seed and processing sectors, a chairman and a CEO. It is likely that the CEO will be a full-time role, but Mark stressed that this recruitment was not being rushed into currently.

 

“We want to make sure the different sectors are represented and there is also a good geographical mix,” said Mark.

 

The governing body will be supported by sub committees with responsibility for specific areas such as storage, research and machinery, that can ‘add value’ and give a broader picture of what the industry needs. At this stage it is a ‘work in progress’, Mark said, and all interested individuals are encouraged to get involved.

 

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“Knowledge exchange is imperative. As not all will have the time to come out in person, we envisage a hybrid working relationship – with some face-to-face and some ‘virtual’ collaboration. GB Potatoes will operate a member-only zone on its website to ensure benefits are directed to those signed up to the organisation.”

 

The organisation believes a void has been left since the demise of the AHDB’s potato arm, with the industry becoming ‘fragmented’ and the potential for some work to be duplicated. “This is a terrible waste,” said Mark. “Brexit, covid, the Ukraine war, and rising costs have all put a strain on the industry. There is no simple answer to all of this, but we need to look into it all together, with an overall voice that can play an active role in lobbying.”

 

DEFRA has been encouraged by the set-up of the organisation, believing it will be a distinct advantage to have ‘one voice’ representing the industry, he added.

 

Priorities for GB Potatoes will focus on defending and championing the UK potato crop along with ‘horizon scanning’, for example looking into the seed situation following the Brexit fall-out

 

“As a united group, we can look at funding opportunities, linking to existing long-term research. In terms of research and development, many respected institutions are running their own well-recognised projects. But GB wants to be a facilitator and coordinator. Not everyone is interested in ALL parts of the industry, so those that support us will be able to help influence and get directly involved.

 

Tapping into existing research will enable GB Potatoes to feed back on what it feels the industry needs next and ensure future priorities are set correctly, the group states. It will also look at how to access surplus funds from AHDB, along with other grant funding, and use this to the best advantage. An ‘open dialogue’ will be in place with the NFU and NFUS to foster greater collaboration.

 

 “It is all about listening first and then acting. It’s taken us a year to get to this point and we want everyone to feel they can place their trust in us and play a part,” said Mark.

 

If sufficient support is not gathered in the first year, the organisation will struggle to take things forward.

 

“Whatever we do, we need to ensure we are sharing best practice across the British potato industry. We need to be able to make a difference on the farm or in the factory at the end of the day. SPot farms and focus groups have worked well previously so can we do farm walks and have more ‘hands-on’ involvement? I’d like to think we can. We don’t just want to be a talking shop.”

 

Membership fees will be £10 a hectare for growers (22% of what they formerly paid to the AHDB) and 10p per ton for ‘first points of purchase’ (50% of what was paid to the AHDB) Different membership options will be available to associate members (machinery manufacturers, agchem specialists and scientific organisations etc based on turnover. These are detailed on the GB Potatoes website.

The group’s priorities and key functions and principles are all available at www.gb-potatoes.co.uk Registering to join the organisation can be done via the website.