This year’s NFU elections are the most open for years. In little more than a month, the union’s top table will look much different, with nine candidates vying for the three officeholder positions of NFU president, deputy president and vice-president.
It’s hard to underestimate how different the union will seem with Peter Kendall gone. His decision to stand down after eight years as NFU president leaves the NFU without one of its most successful presidents. Think Sir Alex Ferguson leaving Manchester United.
Yet the future is more certain in some ways than in others: Yes, Mr Kendall will be a hard act to follow. And the union without him will feel very different (but it may still be as effective). Finally, unless there is a massive upset, Meurig Raymond will be elected NFU president.
How do we know Mr Raymond will win the presidency? In short, nobody else will win more votes. His only challenger, Adam Quinney has served only two years as vice-president compared with Mr Raymond’s eight as deputy. In this game, experience counts for a lot.
The union needs continuity at a time of great change. Mr Raymond offers this. Having served as Mr Kendall’s right-hand-man, it is less a case of Buggins’ turn than an opportunity to forge a new future while maintaining a link to the past.
Now the uncertainties – and it is harder to predict who will be elected deputy and vice-president. A new system of weighted votes based on the number of NFU members in each county makes both elections especially hard to call this time.
Of all the candidates, Mr Quinney is in a particularly difficult position. Rather than the safe option of simply seeking re-election, his decision to run for deputy (as well as the presidency) shows ambition. But climbing the greasy pole is a risky game. He may win, he may go home with nothing.
Further intrigue involves the prospect of a woman at the top table for the first time in NFU history. Wiltshire farmer Minette Batters and Yorkshire farmer Rosie Dunn – both successful livestock producers in their own right – are each running for the posts of deputy and vice-president.
It is all too easy to paint farming as a man’s world. And in many respects it still is. But women are coming to the fore and despite its reputation for being notoriously conservative, there’s a growing feeling that the time is right for NFU council to elect its first woman officeholder.
(More from the NFU conference)