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Farmers to seek answers on Europe as 1400 set to attend NFU conference

The implications of Brexit for farmers, the dire state of the commodity markets and BPS delays will all be hot topics at the annual NFU conference in Birmingham today - as will another vote close to the NFU’s heart.
1400 farmers are set to attend the NFU conference in Birmingham
1400 farmers are set to attend the NFU conference in Birmingham

Two crucial votes are set to dominate proceedings at the NFU Conference in Birmingham, which gets underway this morning.

 

With impeccable timing, Defra Ministers Liz Truss and George Eustice will both be appearing at the two-day event, as it emerged they will be campaigning on opposite sides ahead of the June 23 EU Referendum.

 

The implications for UK farmers of the Brexit debate will be a recurring theme of the conference, which also features a referendum debate on Wednesday, with former Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon speaking for the Britain Stronger In Europe group and Daniel Hannan MEP making the case for Brexit.

 

But while the big farming issues of the day, led by Europe, the desperate state of the commodity markets and Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) delays, will be actively discussed, the NFU’s own ’referendum’ will create an intriguing subtext throughout the conference.

NFU elections

 

election

The NFU council will elect the officeholder team for the next two years after the conference and AGM on Wednesday afternoon, with some predicting a close race for the top job.

 

Meurig Raymond, president for the last two years, is seeking another two-year term but appears to face a serious challenge from his current deputy, Minette Batters.

 

Also in the mix is Alistair Mackintosh, a Cumbrian hill farmer and former livestock chairman, whose presence could influence proceedings.

 

"My gut feeling is the most likely outcome will be a return to the status quo, but it will be close," one member of the council predicted.

 

Mr Raymond, Mrs Batters and vice president Guy Smith, who is standing for the deputy and vice president roles, will each chair a session on Tuesday. Their performances will be closely scrutinised.

Call for action

Mr Raymond will kick start the conference, due to be attended by 1,400 delegates and a huge media contingent, on Tuesday morning, ahead of a speech by Mrs Truss.

 

He will call for ‘actions to back the words’ from Defra on its 25-year plan for food and farming in the face of 'unparalleled financial pressures from supermarket price wars, delayed Basic Payments, volatile markets and extreme weather'.

 

Average December 2015 prices for milk, wheat and pigs are all down more than 30 per cent from the same period two years ago, while prices for spring lamb in 2015 were down 11 per cent on the five year average due to imports and exchange rate.

 

Mr Raymond will also point out downward price pressure in the horticultural sector is set to be compounded by the introduction of the National Living Wage. A lack of effort to help growers make this workable will 'devastate fruit and vegetable businesses', he will warn.

 

Ahead of his speech, Mr Raymond said: “British farming has felt blow after blow in recent years – one thing I know for sure is there is no possible way that any sector can carry on in the same vein.

 

“Farmers borrowed a £17.8billion from banks in 2015 – a record high. This paints a picture for the many businesses having the profit squeezed out of them.

Profit

"Viable businesses cannot continue operating without profit and farms are no exception.

 

“We are calling on the government to provide the tools our sector needs to overcome the challenges and ensure they thrive.

 

"The 25-year food and farming plan must address the fundamental issues of productivity and competitiveness. It needs to see a culture change about how we value food and farming."

 

"It’s crucial that Defra’s plan ensures British farmers have access to the same agri-tech developments as its competitors - like world-class plant protection products and novel breeding techniques.

 

“We must see in this plan a properly functioning supply chain which is fair and shares both risk and reward. One where consumers are able to see clearly marketed British food and buy British because of the quality and values that underlie our production."

 

He called for a commitment to grow the UK's self-sufficiency in food, which currently stands at just 62 per cent self-sufficient and is projected to decline to 53 per cent by 2040.

 

He said: "The future should see our industry reach its productive potential and Defra’s plan has the power to enable farmers to do just that. The plan must back the future of British farming.”

 

 

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