The new leader of the country’s Potato Council is north Northumberland woman Fiona Fell.
She has been appointed this week to the board of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) with responsibility to chair and lead the Potato Council.
Mrs Fell is a former mixed-practice vet in the county. She is married to Hugh, managing partner of well-known rural land agents George F White Group.
Both come from farming families involved in arable and livestock production and Mrs Fell is a former breeder of pedigree Suffolk sheep, as well as currently owning a small flock of Mule gimmers.
She said: “Being appointed chairwoman of the Potato Council gives me the opportunity to work even more closely with the team to address the needs of levy payers as they meet the challenges and opportunities facing the potato industry.
“Our role is to provide support to improve production, assist the industry in promoting potatoes and to protect the reputation of the sector.” The Potato Council is the division of the AHDB which works towards making the British potato industry more sustainable, competitive and profitable.
It helps stimulate use of the GB potato crop in home and export markets.
Mrs Fell has spent the past six years as an independent member of the Potato Council board where she chaired the research and knowledge transfer committee.
Prior to that she was a director of the Moredun Institute and Foundation in Edinburgh for 12 years, ensuring that scientific information reached farmers.
“I have always been very driven by the value of knowledge,” she said. “I was brought up in a farming family that believed in the importance of gaining and sharing knowledge.
“In my wider role on the AHDB board, I look forward to using my broad agricultural and veterinary background while working with colleagues across the different AHDB sectors.
“After working at Moredun, I was looking for a new challenge and was asked to join the Potato Council. When they asked me, I said, ‘It sounds fascinating,’ and it is, actually.
“It’s a fascinating industry and there are some really dynamic people within it.
“Meeting a range of people has been one of the best things about the position.
“I would say my main role will be to help farmers be resilient in the face of the challenges that they meet, whether that’s the weather or the economic climate. I think one of the big challenges is making sure that people understand the nutritional benefits of the potato and its place in a balanced diet.
“This is the GB crop we’re supporting - it’s a local product and it’s good to eat things that we can grow in our country that have good nutritional qualities. I have learned a lot and now know a lot about potato diseases as well as animal diseases!”
The AHDB is the UK’s statutory levy board, funded by farmers, growers and others in the supply chain and managed as an independent organisation.
Its purpose is to make the country’s agriculture and horticulture industries more competitive and sustainable through factual, evidence-based advice, information and activity.
Outgoing AHDB chairman John Godfrey said: “I am delighted to welcome Fiona to the board.
“She has already helped to drive AHDB forward since the sad death of David Piccaver and I fully expect her considerable experience and passion for the industry to make a real contribution to the overall direction of AHDB as we help our levy payers through the years ahead.”
Thanking Tony Bambridge, Tim Papworth and Nick Tapp who are departing Potato Council board members, Mrs Fell added: “It has been a privilege to work with such knowledgeable and committed individuals. We all joined the board together six years ago.
“This period has been a crucial time for Potato Council as we became established at Stoneleigh* and adapted to being within AHDB.
“It is fantastic that we are able to find and welcome new, enthusiastic council members who are willing to engage with fellow levy payers, take stock of their needs and keep our strategies on track.”
Alongside her appointment, four new faces have joined the board.
They are Staffordshire potato grower James Daw, who grows for and supplies the processing sector; Bill Quan, a fresh grower from Herefordshire; Mark Taylor, a director of Agrimarc; and Philip Huggon, independent board member of Seafish, who brings experience from various marketing, strategy and business development roles across Europe while with BP, Mars and Shell.
*The Potato Council, along with the five other main operating divisons of the AHDB, moved to Stoneleigh Park in Kenilworth, Worcestershire, in 2009.