Defra review, Brexit & future research plans. Update from the Horticulture Board

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

An update from Hayley Campbell-Gibbons, AHDB Horticulture

I chaired my first horticulture board meeting on Wednesday 16th January; here’s a download of what went on.

Defra Review of AHDB

Peter Kendall joined to discuss our response to the Defra review, amongst other things.

It’ll come as no surprise that most Defra staff have been pulled onto no-deal preparations, so the review of AHDB is somewhat on the political backburner. Rightly so. The priority for ministers, for farming, and for business is the Agriculture Bill and negotiating our exit from the European union.

That doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing about the feedback from levy payers; far from it. You’ll see from my diary below that I’ve been meeting with growers to better understand the issues, and identify on what works well. The board agreed that by our March board meeting we should be in a position to start shaping recommendations for Defra on what needs changing.

The AHDB board meets at the end of January, and will be scoping out options for the future of the organisation, so that when Defra is ready to talk, we’re prepared to respond.

Brexit Planning

That brings us onto Brexit. Or as The Economist describes it this week ‘The Mother of All Messes’. The board identified the main risks to the horticulture sector, and to AHDB as an organisation. We’re making our own contingency plans about the areas of activity we may need to fast-track, suspend, or turn-off completely if the fallout of Brexit has a sudden and drastic impact on the industry.

We also recognise the difficulty growers have in accessing and making sense of all the information that’s been made available. To help growers plan and prepare we’re overhauling our website to ensure it’s got relevant content to help signpost growers on the things they need to know – including the barrage of technical notices issued by Defra in December, and signposts growers to helpful sources of information.

A new AHDB Brexit Horizon report looking at the impact of different trade scenarios on horticulture sector will also be published in the coming weeks.

AHDB Activity in 19/20

One of the things I’ve discovered as a newbie to AHDB is the somewhat infamous ‘activity plan’. The answer to many a question I pose is ‘…it’s in the activity plan.’ What is this plan? I hear you ask.

It’s 1400 lines of excel spreadsheet that lists out every project, action and work-stream across the organisation, and the cost associated to it. It’s a behemoth of a document, but helpfully, the work-streams linked to horticulture have been extracted by Steve Tones and condensed into a more workable – if not still a tad weighty – document. The board’s job is to approve the plan and the budget by the summer. Wednesday’s meeting was our first collective discussion on the priorities, budget and activities.

I’m a fan of brevity, so let’s see if I can boil this 1400-line spreadsheet down into three bullet points, so you know what we’re focused on and where we’re investing your levy money:

  1. Crop health and protection research, trials and EAMUS
  2. Labour automation, SmartHort (workforce efficiency, conference and hub)
  3. Resource efficiency; energy (GrowSave), growing media, soils, crop nutrition



Central costs are something growers query with me again and again, and the board wants to get to the bottom of it. Ken Boyns, Finance Director, is breaking the figure down to provide more transparency.

There is a lot of confusion and anxiety about this. Grower’s quote anything from 20-46% to me! The figure is 9.7%, which covers our slice of the bill for the services all organisations and business need: an office, HR, Finance and Payroll, IT and senior staff. Once a further breakdown is available it will go to the board, and I see no reason why it can’t be shared more widely with levy payers.

We spend around over 80% of the horticulture levy on research and dissemination; and the rest on communications (most of which is on the events, website, technical factsheets and field / crop guides) and a fraction on data and Brexit work.



AHDB is doing a lot for horticulture – possibly too much, but we aren’t communicating this clearly enough to levy payers. The board has asked for some key messages to demonstrate the headline work we are investing levy payer’s money in; and the achievements in the last year.

We have plenty of detail; the devil is we haven’t distilled this down into a few take-home bullet points for growers. I need a succinct brief on what we’re delivering for levy payers for my own understanding. What’s more, whether you prefer to get it face-to-face, in a magazine, pick up tit-bits on Twitter, see it in photo-form on Instagram, listen to a podcast or watch a quick video – all will be available to you; so it’ll be easier to find out what AHDB is doing if you are interested to know.


Hayley Campbell-Gibbons

AHDB Board Member, Horticulture Chair


The next horticulture board meeting is on Wednesday 13th March.

Chair's Diary: Feb/March 19

  • Meeting NFU Chief Science Adviser (22 Jan)
  • Brassica Growers Association conference (Jan 23)
  • AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds Board (24 Jan)
  • NFU Horticulture Board Chair / EAP Chair (24 Jan)
  • Horticulture Board appointment interviews (28 Jan)
  • AHDB Board meeting (28/29 Jan)
  • Fruit Logistica, Berlin (6-7 Feb)
  • Soft Fruit Panel (12 Feb)
  • Meeting with NFU Horticulture Chair and AHDB CEO, Jane King (12 Feb)
  • Grower visits in Cornwall (25/26 Feb)
  • Field Veg Panel (28 Feb)
  • NFU Conference (19-20 Feb)
  • Meeting with carrot growers (4 March)
  • SmartHort 2019 Conference (6-7 March)