President calls for greater Union cooperation after NFU AGM

Having just come back from Birmingham, where the NFU and NFU Cymru held another successful conference, it made me reflect on just how much we all have in common writes NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy.

In the future, we must, as Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, work closer together on the things we all have in common.

There’s no doubt that we will always have some differences of opinion when it comes to issues specific only to our own respective countries. However, when it comes to matters that affect us all, we could be working much closer together to add weight to our arguments and at the same time optimise our resources for the benefit of the whole of UK agriculture.

This year’s NFU Conference was entitled ‘British Food, What Plan for the Future?’ 

Well, at the minute, these plans are still not clear in any of the home nations, although given the direction of travel in some areas, I know where I’d rather be right now. 

We all accept we must do more and play our part in mitigating or at least adapting to climate change and also enhancing the environment, but we must avoid that cliff edge, or we will be able to do neither.

One real positive at the conference was the work carried out by Joe Twyman from Deltapoll, where his extensive survey highlighted overwhelming support for British farmers, with 94 percent of those surveyed recognising the importance of support for Agriculture. 

That’s an incredibly high mark and shows that despite the challenges faced with the cost-of-living crisis, food, and more to the point British food produced by British farmers was still held in high regard and trusted.

Having the Prime Minister there was always going to be an attraction, and it would be fair to say that he came over a lot better in person than he did last year when his short video clip didn’t really cut the mustard. 

However, in his closing remarks the audience didn’t appreciate his comment, ‘You don’t do it for the money.’ 

That remark highlighted a serious government misunderstanding of how important profitability is in our industry. Especially as one of his earlier promises was to make regulation easier to diversify to help the business. 

I wonder how any politician from any party would get on going to another industry with the same suggestion. Can you imagine, for example, going to a major car manufacturer, and saying to them you need to make your cars cheaper for the consumer, but we’ll make it easier for you to diversify into something else to support and subsidise your core business. I’m pretty sure I know what the answer might be.

Another highlight was the political hustings, where Mark Spencer MP (Agricultural Minister) and shadow ministers from Labour and the Lib Dems, Daniel Zeichner MP and Tim Farron MP battled it out on stage talking about everything from flood management to funding. 

I think it would be fair to say that Tim probably came out on top, but I am slightly biased as he was the only one who has so far supported NFU Scotland’s ask for an extra £1bn to be added to the UK rural funding pot.

It's on things like this where all the unions could work closer to get the likes of these messages across. I’m fully aware that NFU are a much bigger organisation than us, indeed that’s why the devolved unions have such a close relationship, but as one voice we stand united and carry much more clout. 

I’m really keen to pick up a greater collaboration between us all and I look forward to working with the new team at NFU. 

Congratulations to Tom Bradshaw, David Exwood and Rachel Hallos on being the newly elected President, Deputy President, and Vice President, respectively. I’m sure you will be a formidable team.

Finally, a huge congratulations to Minette Batters for putting in such a massive shift as President over the past six years and four as Deputy President before that. 

She is now a household name not just in farming circles but within the wider public. And I’m sure, in one form or another, she will continue to play her unique ambassadorial role for the industry, albeit without the same immense weight on her shoulders that the position brings. Slainte Minette.

Author: Martin Kennedy

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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin is a tenant farmer in Aberfeldy, Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire Branch chair, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin went on to be Vice-Chair before chairing the committee for three years. He was elected Vice-President in 2017 and elected as President in 2021.

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