A statement from the AHDB said Jane King “plans to have a break with her family next year before continuing to support the industry in other ways in the future”. Recruitment of a new CEO “will begin immediately and there will be a handover period before Jane leaves to ensure a smooth transition,” the statement said.
The organisation Ms King has headed up for nearly six years recently agreed to ballot its members on the continuation of a statutory levy in horticulture following months of wrangling over its future.
Opposition to the levy was led by three Lincolnshire growers, known as the AHDB Petitioners, who collectively grow potatoes, vegetables and flowers and have a combined turnover of £20 million.
Peter Thorold, John Bratley and Simon Redden collected 107 formal requests for a ballot and also released data from a survey of almost 2,000 levy-payers from the AHDB’s horticulture and potatoes sectors which they said showed the majority of growers viewed the organisation as “outdated and unwanted”.
The AHDB had already committed to a new strategy and improved communication with levy payers on how their money is spent in response to a Government-led ‘request for views’ published earlier this year.
Together with an agreement to hold a regular ballot on the AHDB levy and how it is spent, a review of the levy system for potatoes and horticulture and a review of AHDB’s board and committee structure, Chair Nicholas Saphir said the changes showed it was “committed to some key reforms to ensure we are fit for purpose in the changing times British agriculture is facing”.
Nicholas, who was appointed in April, underlined the importance of AHDB’s new five-year strategy, which will focus on market development and farm performance.
“Our fantastic work during Covid-19 showed AHDB is at its very best in responding quickly to the needs of farmers, growers and the supply chain at a time of crisis, and we were able to clearly demonstrate the value we add for our levy payers,” he said.
“Our industry is about to undergo significant change driven by a new direction in trade and agriculture policies, as well as shifting consumer demands. Farming and supply chain businesses will need to compete with the best in the world, drawing on the latest insight to improve farm performance, grow market opportunities and meet environmental goals.”
AHDB has also pledged to review and update the levy calculations for horticulture and potatoes, which are based on business turnover in horticulture and hectares planted in potatoes, and were in place before AHDB was formed in 2008.
Nicholas said: “This is a piece of work which has been in train for some time, and we are very aware of the current strength of feeling in these sectors. We are working with growers to see how we can design a more modern system.”
Announcing Ms King’s decision to stand down, the AHDB said that with the five-year strategy and business plans “nearly complete” and the change programme underway, she felt it was “a good time to begin to hand the leadership baton over to someone fresh to deliver the next phase of AHDB’s development”.
The statement added: “In the meantime, Jane will work closely with the chair, the Board and the leadership team to continue to reform AHDB in line with the commitments we have made to improve levy-payer engagement and value for money.
“Jane’s focus will continue to be on leading the strategic change programme. This includes consulting with industry on the new strategy, developing the business plans and new programmes, progressing action on our response to the request for views and continuing to deliver real positive impact for industry.”
Ms King said: “It has been a great privilege to lead an incredible team at AHDB and to work with inspirational farmers, growers and partners to deliver our programmes and services. The commitment and dedication of AHDB colleagues has been amazing.
“I have the comfort of knowing that together we have achieved a good deal and AHDB will go from strength to strength under fresh leadership.”