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From the editor: Gove's legacy will be defined by more than warm words

Such was the size of the Brexit elephant in the NFU conference hall that politicians and union leaders decided the best form of attack was to lavish praise on one another.

With anything they said ultimately overshadowed by the looming exit from the EU on March 29, the main session in Birmingham was, as we said in this column last week, an exercise in going through the motions.

 

NFU president Minette Batters and Defra Secretary Michael Gove were so convivial that, at one point, I thought the Defra man and NFU top team might have a communal hug on stage.

 

It appears that the union’s ploy is to proactively work with Defra to achieve wider goals for the industry, and in Ms Batters they have a razor sharp and highly capable president.

 

She excelled in the one-to-one grilling of Mr Gove, yet it will be interesting to see what longterm wins are achieved for the industry by the NFU and other representative bodies.


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Mr Gove is a consummate professional politician, for good and for bad. Despite a slightly awkward moment where he professed his love for a ‘pint of full cream milk’ after a hard day at the office, somewhat reminiscent of Liz Truss’ teeth grindingly awful clarion call for cheese products at the Conservative Party conference in 2014, he sought to tell the audience what it wanted to hear.

 

While his nod to tariffs for vulnerable sectors was welcome, it was light on detail and his rhetoric will be useless in the face of the challenges farming faces in the next month and beyond.

 

Warm words are fine, but with some agricultural veterans believing farming faces its biggest shake-up since the end of World War II, the coming years will be a time for hard headed decisions on individual farming futures in a time of unprecedented change.

 

Mr Gove will be judged on the platform he provides agriculture to move forward from, not on his conference presentation skills.

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