12 May 2000
Farmers demand NFU reform
By FW reporters
GRASSROOTS farmers say they are sending a representative to London to discuss changes to the NFUs constitution with union president Ben Gill.
Somerset dairy farmer Derek Mead is due to meet Mr Gill next week.
Mr Mead said he would be representing Farmers For Action, the protest group which is demanding that the NFU reforms how union officeholders are elected.
But Ian Gardiner, NFU deputy director general, said the union had agreed to meet with Mr Mead only in his capacity as an NFU member.
Demands made by Farmers For Action would not be up for discussion, he added. The more likely topic of conversation would be the crisis in farming.
But David Handley, FFA spokesman, said the group wanted to secure a “transparent election system for all officeholders from the top down”.
The FFA has more than 500 signatures from NFU members which could be used to call an extraordinary general meeting to reform the unions constitution.
Mr Handley said the group would prefer not to use the signatures. Instead, it would try to achieve its objectives by discussion and agreement.
But he indicated that the “500 signatures” would be used if all other approaches failed to achieve the reforms demanded by grassroots farmers.
“The FFA has never had any intention of trying to destroy the NFU,” said Mr Handley.
“But we believe some fundamental changes are needed in the NFUs constitution, method of operation, and relationship with members.”
Nevertheless, Mr Handley denied that the FFA was singling out Mr Gill as a target. He said: “We would like to record our thanks to Ben Gill for inviting us.”
The FFA claims to have secured the support of more than 10,000 farmers, many of them NFU members from south-west England.
In particular, it wants the NFU president elected by a one member one vote system. At present, the president is elected by the 92-strong NFU Council.
If a one member one vote system was introduced, however, it is unclear whether Mr Gill would be re-elected.
Mr Gill achieved 17% of the votes in a phone-in poll of Farmers Weekly readers before the unions elections last February.
Outspoken farmers leader and FFA member Richard Haddock polled 80%.