NFU president Meurig Raymond has announced he will step down as the union’s president.
His decision could pave the way for his deputy, Wiltshire farmer Minette Batters, to become the NFU’s first female president.
In an email to council members, Mr Raymond, who has spent the last 14 years as a national office holder and two, two-year terms as president, said it had been ‘a very difficult’ decision but that the NFU was well-equipped going forward.
“This has been a very difficult decision for me, but it has become increasingly clear that the complex negotiations for the UK to leave the EU will go well beyond the next two years,” he said.
“I had always been clear that I would not want to serve as an officeholder beyond 2020 and so, for the sake of continuity and consistency throughout this critical period for British farming, I believe it is right that I should step back now rather than in 2020.
“The NFU is well-equipped to deal with the task at hand. Our thinking on Brexit is well-developed, we have built effective alliances across and beyond our own industry and the NFU has built up a significant reservoir of cross-party political support.”
Mr Raymond said the union had successfully moved food and farming up the political agenda and continually made a ’real difference’ for its members.
He added: “As a critical link in the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, feeding the nation while providing excellent stewardship of the environment, we have a great story to tell.
“I am passionate about this industry and I look forward to working hard to represent our farmers and growers as NFU President over the next four months. I will continue to support and champion this great industry in whatever way I can in the coming years.”
NFU hustings will take place in the last week of January. Current deputy president Minette Batters and vice-president Guy Smith will be likely contenders for the top job. Mr Smith received his nomination for president at his Essex branch AGM on Wednesday (November 1).
Others are expected to throw their hat into the ring in the coming weeks.
Hertfordshire farmer Stuart Roberts will stand for the vice-president position. He said: “For sometime I have made no secret of my willingness to stand in 2018 for an NFU officeholder position.
"I am delighted to have been nominated for vice-president by colleagues in Cambridgeshire and I look forward to talking to members over the coming weeks and months about what I feel I could bring to a strong officeholder team."
The election will take place at the NFU’s annual conference in February.