Meurig RaymondMeurig Raymond © Tim Scrivener

The NFU is to develop a “bold and ambitious vision” for British agriculture over the coming months, though some members believe it is not acting fast enough.

The in-depth strategy will build on an eight-week consultation with NFU members, held over the summer, and is expected to be published at the union’s annual conference in February 2017.

The comprehensive framework will spell out the union’s views on labour availability, trade and agricultural support.

See also: NFU sets out options for a post-Brexit farm policy

Speaking after this week’s meeting of the union’s ruling council, NFU president Meurig Raymond said the union supported a “bold, ambitious vision” for British food and farming after the UK left the EU.

The paper would form the basis of initial talks with all levels of government to ensure a progressive, profitable and competitive future for British farming after Brexit.

“It has been encouraging to see the high level of interest among our farmer and grower members over the summer at this unique opportunity to help shape the future of our industry,” said Mr Raymond.

“What’s at stake here clearly needs to remain at the front of this debate – protecting the environment alongside having access to safe, affordable, traceable home-grown food. For that we need to have competitive, profitable and progressive farming.

“To that end we’ll be looking at what allegiances we can form to ensure the voice for British food and farming is as strong as possible.”

More speed

However, some NFU council members said the union should develop and publish a detailed policy document much sooner than next February.

Kent farmer Kevin Attwood said it was clear the government was formulating its position to take into Brexit negotiations starting from March 2017. “It is an urgent matter – February does not do it.”

West Sussex farmer David Exwood voiced a similar view.

“The direction of travel is absolutely fine, but I have a real problem with the timing. I don’t know what is so difficult about actually getting out some policy now.”

Mr Exwood added: “There is a real hunger for policy, for detail and for leadership out there and I just feel we need to get on with it. Leaving it until February is too late.”

Cumbrian farmer Alistair Mackintosh said he too felt February was too late.

Waiting until the NFU’s annual conference would place the union in a reactive position, rather than a position that set the agenda, said Mr Mackintosh.

Landing blows

In response, NFU director general Terry Jones said the union would “land the blows we need to” on the various different policy areas affecting farming.

“We have, I think, a very formed position on trade and labour – we can and will deploy that immediately,” he said.

“But it won’t have escaped anybody’s notice that what we have on domestic agricultural policy is much more of a set of principles.”

This framework would have to be “coloured in” over time, said Mr Jones.

NFU members had different views, but it was difficult to say what a domestic agricultural policy should look like before the UK’s likely future trading relationships were more clear.