DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has pulled out of his keynote address at the NFU annual conference in Birmingham.

Mr Paterson underwent urgent surgery for a detached retina earlier this month and he has not fully recovered.

See also NFU Conference 2014: Floods crisis to dominate NFU conference agenda

He was expected to deliver a speech at the opening day of conference on Tuesday (25 February).

A DEFRA source said Mr Paterson would be feeling “gutted” not to be able to make the conference.

A spokeswoman confirmed: “The secretary of state is recovering from major surgery and will return to work when medical advice deems it appropriate to do so.”

Mr Paterson had been expected to give more details about the government’s response to the floods as well as discuss the future of the badger cull.

Farm minister George Eustice will replace Mr Paterson and address the conference at around 10.45am on Tuesday.