Those hoping to fill the posts of President, Deputy President and Vice-President, are travelling around the country attending county NFU meetings, eager to secure support from those county representatives eligible to vote, at the annual conference in Birmingham on 20-21 February.
There are several questions to ask. How important are these elections, and will those who are elected make a significant difference to all farmers across the country? Should we as mere members of the NFU care, and if we have a preference regarding who our county representative votes for, will they take any notice?
So far the money is on the current Deputy-President Minette Batters being elected President. She would be the first female to hold this position in the NFU’s 110 year history. Guy Smith may well become Deputy-President, and the Vice-President’s position could be any one of the five remaining candidates.
I was asked last week if I care who is elected, and if I have any influence over who is. The answer to the first is yes, I think so, and the second is no of course not.
I would hope that whoever becomes President is more effective than the last, which is what I always say.
If I were to call the East Sussex chairman Chris Jeffries and voice my preference, I suspect he would take little notice, and why should he? Even if he did, which is unlikely, he has just two votes overall representing Sussex NFU members. Whereas the representative from Devon has 17 votes, and five other county representatives have 12 votes each. The number of votes each has is dependent upon the number of members within their county.
All branch, county and national NFU officers are good, honest hardworking farmers who give up their time to represent the industry which they are passionate about. They give up hours of their time voluntarily, travel around their region, and across the country. Why would they unless they really believe in what they are doing?
The next question is, do governments take NFU presidents and their officers seriously?
All presidents have their own agenda, but do they truly represent our industry and communicate with the wider associated industry leaders, government ministers and mandarins at DEFRA?
Let us hope that all this year’s candidates have a healthy disrespect for ministers, and are not looking for self-promotion or gongs. They must have the ability to communicate with the principal mandarins, and very importantly the capability to interconnect with the general public, press and media.
Unfortunately some former incumbents have made little or no impression upon the general public, and the non-agricultural press and media have hardly noticed them.
We come to a vital cross roads as ministers consider which road our industry travels along following Brexit. The very survival of many farms across the country, and their ability to produce food sustainably depends upon decisions made now.
The story of farming, its importance regarding the environment, the beauty of the countryside and the most fundamentally crucial matter of producing home grown food, is absolutely essential.
British farmers need a representative with charisma, and who is brave and effective. We do not have ‘snowflakes’ within our industry, so I am certain all the candidates would do a good job.
However, we need someone head and shoulders above the rest, an outstanding individual, a Lionheart. An ambassador for the whole of our industry who is prepared to speak up all day, every day to the right people.
As the youngest candidate for the post of vice-president, 31 year old Richard Bower said, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Let us hope this time they get it right. We must have confidence that that special person is actually amongst the candidates. Time will tell.