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Farmers Weekly Power Players

Thursday 19 January 2006 09:00

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Who are the crucial figures influencing UK farming today? It's a question that Farmers Weekly has tried to answer by identifying the industry's top 20 Power Players and also some of the names to watch in the future.

We rated the influence of key individuals - farmers, businessmen and policy makers - to identify those people who are driving the future of the agricultural sector and having an impact on your farm business. Some are in the public eye, others in the shadows. But all are important.

How we ranked them?

Don't think that because these people have made the list, they are necessarily our favourite people. 

FW's News, Features and Business desks took an objective look at the individuals and their organisations and ranked them on their influence on three groups: Policy makers , farming businesses  and the public .

We gave them a score out of 10 for each one of the three and came up with a combined Power Player score out of 30.

Key:
big ben - Influence over policy makers

claas  - Influence over farmer's fortunes

crowd  - Influence over the public

Win £100 by submitting your own top 10 power players in farming! Click Here ...


20 Georgina Downs
Pesticides campaigner 

georgina downsAn unknown in the farming world three years ago, now the pesticides campaigner from Sussex has become a powerful force.

Ms Downs has almost single-handedly persuaded scientists and politicians that spray controls need to be tightened because of her belief that her health has been adversely affected by spray drift from farmland.

If government accepts the recommendations of a recent report on the issue, then farmers could soon be forced to adopt measures like no-spray buffer zones.  

claas 3 crowd big ben 3

19 Sean Rickard
Senior business lecturer, Cranfield Univ.
 

sean rickardBranded the pundit farmers love to hate, Sean Rickard has traded off his stint as chief economist at the NFU for more than a decade.

Always ready to quote and expound his criticism of farmers and their lack of business acumen, he is a favourite commentator of newspaper journalists and broadcasters alike.

But his power extends beyond his presence in the press.

Evidence of his status among politicians became apparent when he was chosen by New Labour to write the agricultural content of the party's election manifesto in 2005.  

claas crowd big ben 6

18 Tim Smith
Chief executive of Arla Foods UK 

tim smithAs chief executive of Arla Foods UK, the country's largest milk processor, Tim Smith has a key role to play in improving milk prices for the nation's beleaguered dairy farmers.

Since taking over the role last year he has already raised the ire of farmers' groups by cutting milk prices several times and Arla has been criticised for its heavy-handed approach to farmers protesting about low prices.

On a more positive note, Arla has helped add much-needed value to liquid milk with the introduction of popular brands like Cravendale.  

claas 8 crowd 4.5  big ben 3

17 David Handley
Chairman of Farmers For Action

david handleyFor six years Mr Handley has been the mouthpiece for the farming protester.

His strong-arm tactics have struck a chord with frustrated farmers and have earned him a loyal and growing following.

Though some find it hard to admit, the consensus is that Mr Handley and the FFA's brand of negotiation have secured milk price rises where other efforts have failed.

Recent, positive coverage of the food strike has seen his opinions gain newspaper space beyond the bounds of the farming press.

Now with the backing of millionaire green campaigner Zac Goldsmith, Mr Handley has launched a tilt at the NFU presidency and he is once more in the limelight.

claas crowd 10  big ben 3

16 Tim Bennett
President of the NFU

tim bennettThe NFU still has automatic access to the corridors of Westminster and that, with its considerable expertise among backroom staff, has secured Tim Bennett a place in the top 20 ahead of the other union leaders.

But things are not what they used to be.

The apparent lack of action on Mr Bennett's part has seen membership numbers decline and its position as the voice of farming challenged. 

In the face of a government populated largely by urban MPs, the union's avenue of power has at times become more of a brick wall.

Out in the field, among the grassroot farmers, the union has also found the going much tougher.

Hamstrung by its constitution, which prevents it from taking direct action, it has watched as others challenge the big buyers face to face. 

claas 6.5  crowd 4 big ben 6

15 Jacques Chirac
French president

jacques chiracMost UK farmers no doubt dislike Jacques Chirac for stirring up protest against the £3bn British budget rebate, not to mention making rude and wholly unfair comments about British food and BSE.

But you have to admit that he seems prepared to fight the cause of Europe's farmers with a degree of conviction sadly missing on this side of the Channel and this has brought benefits for UK producers.  

claas crowd big ben 6

14 Paul Dacre
Editor of the Daily Mail

paul dacreAll newspapers enjoy a good food scare, whether it's salmonella, E Coli, listeria, BSE or pesticides.

But the Daily Mail has turned them into an art form, regularly terrifying middle England with the prospect of plague and pestilence stalking the suburbs.

Its reach and authority are huge - 2.3 million loyal middle-class readers - and only a foolish government minister gets the wrong side of it.

If the Daily Mail says British carrots are dangerously radioactive, you had better believe it.    

claas crowd 8.5  big ben 7.5

13 Baroness Young
Chief executive of the Environment Agency

baroness youngA Labour peer with the ear of government and a reputation for being unusually outspoken.

Although her role as a head of a regulator means she is not a favourite of farmers, it can't be denied that her influence on the sector is huge and growing.

The agency is in charge of issues as diverse as fly-tipping, flooding, pollution and water abstraction and next month the organisation will oversee the introduction of new agricultural waste regulations.

But her views on soil management do rankle with many producers. 

claas 7.5  crowd big ben 7

11= Christine Tacon
General manager of Farmcare

christine taconA woman with behind-the-scenes influence, who has won respect - and along the way a CBE - despite her lack of a farming background.

As the boss of the Co-op's 30,000ha (74,000-acre) farm business, Mrs Tacon has a reputation for being someone prepared to take tough decisions.

She is also a member of the independent group overseeing DEFRA's food and farming strategy and a sometimes critical non-executive director of the Rural Payments Agency.

One to watch.

claas crowd big ben 8

11= Jamie Oliver
Food campaigner and chef

jamie oliverThe chirpy TV chef won the support of the public, as well as farmers, in 2005 with his campaign to get healthy and nutritious food back on school dinner menus.

His crusade against Turkey Twizzlers also raised the prospects of farmers supplying fresh food to public bodies.

It was huge victory when the government pledged £280m extra to school meals, money which farmers now hope they can get a share of. 

claas crowd big ben 8

10 Patrick Holden
Director of the Soil Association

patrick holdenThe organic champion has driven the organic movement since the early 1970s, steering it from its image of muck and magic to its position today as a multi-billion pound industry.

Always willing to speak about the differences between organic and conventionally produced food, and on his stand against genetic modification, he has identified himself as a favourite with the media.

Behind the scenes he has influential friends, among them broadcasters John Humphrys and Jonathan Dimbleby.

He is often seen in the company of Prince Charles, with whom he shares his beliefs and sometimes his holidays.  

claas 4.5  crowd big ben 7

9 Gordon Brown
Chancellor of the Exchequer

gordon brownHolder of the nation's purse strings, the Chancellor's decisions affect all of our lives.

Tax relief on farmland is helping to hold up land values, but there has been scant farmer-friendly legislation for owner-occupiers or tenants from "Prudence" Brown's office lately.

As one of the more credible ministers in Tony Blair's cabinet he wields immense influence.

In his role of Prime Minister designate this can only grow, and his Old-Labour leanings suggest there will be little succour for farmers if he moves in to Number 10. 

claas crowd big ben 9

8 Prince Charles
Farmer and campaigner

prince charlesThe future monarch's worldwide profile and broad appeal across British society ensures his every utterance is newsworthy.

Recent subjects addressed include backing British locally-produced food, organic farming and his continuing opposition to genetically modified food.

He has the ear of the politicians, who will nearly always sit up and take notice of his strongly-worded private dispatches, penned to express views, to chastise or simply inform.

More directly he influences farming through the Duchy of Cornwall estate and the farming practices of his tenants.

His organic food company Duchy Originals is gaining space on supermarket shelves and helping the public to link the farm with the food they eat. 

claas 7 .5 crowd big ben 6

7 Sir Donald Curry
Government adviser

sir donald currySome farmers feel he is too much of a "government man", but Sir Donald is genuine in his desire to get the farming industry back on track. Somewhat over-exposed on the agricultural conference circuit, he is still a figure with considerable influence.

The Curry report he produced in 2002 forms the basis of DEFRA's food and farming strategy and he chairs the independent group overseeing its implementation.

As a farmer in his own right, he knows the sector's problems. 

claas 8.5  crowd big ben 8

5= Mariann Fischer Boel
EU farm commissioner

mariann fischer boelNot as charismatic as predecessor Franz Fischler, Mariann Fischer Boel doesn't seem to carry quite his authority either.

That said, Europe's influence over the fortunes of British farmers can't be denied.

UK sugar beet farmers won't thank her for delivering a killer karate blow to the sugar regime.

But she seemed genuinely upset by recent attempts by Tony Blair and others to bring in yet more radical CAP reform when the current set are hardly in place.  

claas 10  crowd big ben 9

5= John Fingleton
Chief exec, Office of Fair Trading

john fingletonNewly installed at the Office of Fair Trading, this business academic has the power to rein in the supermarkets and their rapid expansion into the middle-ground retail arena.

But previous decisions during his five-year reign at the Irish OFT suggest an unwillingness to take the side of small business.

Needs to reverse the OFT's apparent policy of blocking even minor consolidation in the dairy industry if the sector is to improve its fortunes. 

claas crowd big ben 7

4 Margaret Beckett
DEFRA secretary

margaret beckettFarmers may smile at her caravan holidays, but their fortunes are very much tied up with DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett.

While she spends more time talking about climate change than farming on a day-to-day basis, the DEFRA secretary does represent the UK at crucial EU farm council meetings and is an influential member of Cabinet.

In recent months Mrs Beckett, in conjunction with the Chancellor, has also produced her somewhat chilling vision for the future of farming.  

claas 8 crowd big ben 9

3 Peter Mandelson
EU trade commissioner

peter mandelsonTwo resignations from Tony Blair's government seem to have done little to damage the rise and rise of this smooth operator and instigator of last year's "Bra Wars".

As European commissioner of Trade, Peter Mandelson plays a crucial role negotiating for the EU in the current Doha development round of trade talks.

Agricultural support is a stumbling block and the inevitable CAP concessions will not endear him to farmers.

But he is no pushover and has refused to cut support by as much as the United States and other trading blocs want.  

claas crowd 4.5  big ben 9

2 Graham Wynne
Chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

graham wynneThe RSPB is a powerful voice on farming and countryside issues, with its membership of 1.1m and its control of 130,000ha of land.

That much clout with the electorate has seen Mr Wynne feted by many senior politicians who have adopted the society's views and arguably those views now underpin the UK's farm policy.

The RSPB will be seen as a strange bedfellow, but, with its power over the public, it would make a better ally than it would an enemy.

Farmers may, however, be reluctant, as the organisation has played a part in turning the farmer from hero to pariah with its persistent cry that intensive farming is to blame for the decline in farmland birds.   

claas crowd big ben 8.5

1  Terry Leahy

Chief executive of Tesco

Terry LeahyThe man many farmers love to hate, Tesco's chief executive Terry Leahy is the ultimate grocer.

His 1779 supermarkets - not to mention numerous convenience stores and garages - now account for about one in every eight pounds spent by British shoppers and the gap between the retailer and its closest competitors Asda and J Sainsbury is more of a chasm. 

This success, based on aggressive cost-cutting, massive expansion and clever marketing, has, say numerous critics, come at the expense of many farming businesses.

Some farmers have a successful working relationship with the retailer, but others point the finger at a buying policy that, they say, hardly enables them to return even a small profit as the other big retailers are forced to adopt the same approach as the market leader. 

But Mr Leahy is expected to garner £2bn of profit for his shareholders this year, suggesting he is providing shoppers with what they want.

By offering a wider choice and variety of products at low cost, and under one roof, the supermarket has won the loyalty of millions of shoppers. 

Arguably Tesco now controls the food buying decisions of a large section of the British public and consequently has a tight grip on British farming's customers.

Even though Tony Blair said the supermarkets had farmers in an armlock it is unlikely that the Labour Party will intervene.

Tesco's ability to keep a lid on food prices helps keep inflation down and has made the big retailer popular with the government. 

The enormous challenge for farming is how to supply Tesco with what it demands while making a decent margin at supermarket prices. 

Farming has to persuade Mr Leahy, the government and the other big retailers to take a longer-term view of their UK suppliers and appreciate the benefits of a thriving home-produced food source.

claas crowd 10  big ben 9

Disagree? Then post your top 10 here ...

Farmers Weekly has chosen its Power Players carefully, but knows that not everyone will agree with our decisions.

Why not put together your own list of Power Players and your reasons.

The best list, as judged by FW's Power Players panel, will win £100. 

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