22 March 2002

Bread and beer on PRmenu

By Tom Allen-Stevens

BREAD and beer for Britain could be the slogan used in an NFU PR push to raise the profile of arable farmers. The campaign forms part of a wider arable strategy announced to the unions governing body last week.

Cereals committee chairman Richard Butler said the arable sector had been hit by a "hidden exodus" which has veiled the plight of those within it.

"The land is still being farmed, but thousands of growers have been driven off by falling profitability. The public doesnt realise how much the sector has restructured and adapted to todays economic climate."

The positive role farmers play will be promoted, including the widespread adoption of integrated farm management concepts, assurance schemes, and the role they play in feeding the nation.

"Single issue groups have accentuated the negative – were still tarnished as chemical farmers. Weve got to make sure people get a fair balance," said Mr Butler.

PR will also play a prominent part in internal changes considered under the Meeting Members Expectations report discussed by the NFU council. The report recommended a public relations committee should be set up and that committee chairmen should play a more prominent role in promoting issues in their sectors.

The union was keen to stress these moves were started before so-called "siren voices" initiated a debate about a breakaway arable association. But Norfolk farmer Marie Skinner, who recently stood for deputy president, said a PR body should include much more of the food chain than farming alone.

"Youve got to give the body a degree of independence. If you pull it away from the NFU you get a better system." She said she was willing to be involved, but only in a "proper industry-wide body with the right remit."

Hants grower and chairman of British Cereals Exports Simon Browne, gave a cautious welcome to the NFUs initiative: "Words are worth nothing – its action that matters." &#42