Ahead of the NFU officeholder elections at the union’s conference and AGM next week, the FG team asks each candidate why members should vote for them.
Minette Batters said if she was elected president she would champion the industry to those outside the farming community.
She said: “We have concentrated for so long on farmer to farmer. The real strength I would bring is about making our case to the outside world.
“Farming is absolutely fundamental to the nation.”
Ms Batters also spoke her four priorities: NFU memberships, more ambitious campaigns, changing the mass in the supply chain and having a strong manifesto on trade, labour and the new agricultural policy.
She said the industry was in a strong position to increase its potential at home and abroad.
“Brexit is such a game changer it is important we are taking ownership of farmers and growers first and foremost as producers of food,” she said.
“I am definite they can be the first for retail, the food supply and exports.”
Essex farmer Guy Smith has spent the last four years working as vice-president of the union and is keen to talk about his favourite part of the job, speaking to other farmers.
“While the big picture topics such as Brexit always feature in conversations, I am struck by the fact everyday issues, such as rural crime and TB, are just as important,” he said.
“It is my job to take these concerns into the corridors of power. I am always keen to leave a trace of the muddy boot on the plush carpets of Westminster.”
On the big topic of the day, Brexit, Mr Smith believes in taking a positive approach, but wants to ‘step up’ on two key messages.
First, high standard food production is a public good, and second, environmental goods are best delivered by farmers producing food.
“If promoted in these elections, I can promise three things,” said Mr Smith.
“Hard work, commitment to the working farmers I represent and never being afraid to tell it how it is.”
James Small, a mixed livestock farmer from Somerset, has spent more than 12 years working in the NFU, including as South West regional board chairman and as a livestock board member.
He believes this experience has given him a good understanding of the union and the issues which affect farmers every day, such as rural crime, supply chain problems and planning.
If elected, Mr Small would make communicating with consumers a priority, explaining what farmers do and how their work benefits society.
On the ‘huge challenge’ of Brexit, he said: “It is causing much uncertainty, but with the uncertainty comes opportunity.
“We can help shape a new policy which does not lessen our commitment to producing good value, quality, safe, assured food.”
One other key area of concern for Mr Small is helping the next generation and new entrants get on the career ladder.
“The NFU is an amazing team, and I seek to be a part of this team,” he said.
Michael Oakes said he was looking to bring the success he had seen during his time as dairy board chairman to the leadership team.
He said when he took up the role three years ago, the board was good at responding to what was going on, rather than having its own focus.
But he said his dairy board had set a focus on animal health, promotion and making dairy businesses competitive.
“Some of this promotion we cannot do ourselves but we can make sure others do,” he said, highlighting AHDB and Dairy UK’s latest dairy marketing campaign.
“We started pushing them three years ago. It has taken three years but there are real positives.”
He added he wanted to bring the leadership team together to speak with one voice, while also putting the sector boards in the NFU, the policy board and the council ‘back at the heart of everything we do’.
Charles Sercombe said after six years of working around Westminster and Brussels as livestock board chairman, he had everything in place to start working on day one.
“I am really convinced we have a small window of opportunity to influence thinking on trade deals, labour and future domestic agricultural policy.”
He said his priorities would be working with the other office holders to ensure the NFU had the most possible influence on trade.
“We need to be really proactive, to work with the commodity boards and wider membership to ensure our key asks are aligned and deliverable to fit with Government’s vision for the future shape of agriculture.”
Mr Sercombe added they also needed to get the message to the wider public of the benefits of agriculture.
“It is not just safe, affordable food but we have also created the landscape we all live in.”
A background as a civil servant working in the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, Defra and the Food Standards Agency, stands Stuart Roberts in good stead for a place at the NFU’s top table.
More recently, holding positions at meat processor ABP and AHDB Beef and Lamb, the Hertfordshire beef and arable farmer said, if elected, he would bring a unique set of skills to the leadership team.
“I have young children and if they do decide to go into agriculture, I do not think there is a better time to play a more influential role in theirs and our industry’s future than at this time.
“With so much uncertainty circling the sector at the moment, it is crucial the new top team hits the ground running on day one.”
Mr Roberts said along with Brexit, more immediate concerns for the country’s producers included rural crime, farm safety and the rise of anti-meat lobbying.
He said the union had to work across the sector to develop a coherent and unified vision to fight British farming’s corner in the corridors of power in Westminster.
Richard Bower said although he was seen by many people as the underdog in the election process, he has already brought new, and different, things to the table.
He said now was the time for the NFU to integrate and work with the next generation to mobilise the talents of those who will be the face of British agriculture in the years to come.
“I am just trying to show what different things I can offer and the energy, passion and innovation I can bring,” Mr Bower said.
“Standing for vice-president shows I am determined.”
While a lot of people will promise they can do everything, Mr Bower said ‘something tangible’ would happen if members voted for him.
“The title of this year’s NFU conference, Recipe for Change, could not be any more important,” he added. “I am an ingredient of this recipe.”