Interview: Meurig Raymond on life as NFU president

Newly elected NFU president Meurig Raymond tells Debbie James what he stands for and where he is from.

Tell us about your farm business.

It is very much a family business. My twin brother Mansel and I inherited the farm in Pembrokeshire when we were 13. We took full control of the business, which was then 121ha, at the age of 18. I now run it along with Mansel, our wives Hilary and Rosalind, my eldest son Paul and nephew Nigel.

The farm has grown to 1,400ha, 570ha of which are owned, with the other 800ha either on long- or short-term rental agreements or in share farming agreements.

See also: Wales has it wrong on TB, says NFU chief

We milk 620 cows in two dairy herds with a year-round calving pattern and have 300 dairy followers. For the past two years we have sold our milk to Dairy Crest Direct on a liquid milk contract supplying the plant at Severnside.

Meurig Raymond in a minute

  • What brand of wellies do you wear? Seals
  • Which are your favourite sports and which teams do you support? Rugby and cricket. I support the Welsh rugby team and for cricket, it’s England and Glamorgan.
  • Tell us something about you that no one knows? Very few people realise that my father fought in the First World War. He was 57 when Mansel and I were born and my mother was 46.
  • Favourite television programme? Any factual history programme.
  • Which newspaper do you read? I’m a newspaper addict. I read three or four a day, but The Daily Telegraph is my favourite.
  • What is the most inspiring book you have read?On the Smell of an Oil Rag by John Cherrington.

On the livestock side, we keep between 500 and 600 head of beef cattle, depending on our TB situation, and we fatten 150 black and white bull beef calves from the dairy herd, which we sell to APB.

We buy 2,000 store lambs from Sennybridge market in November or December and fatten those on green crops, either stubble turnips or forage, which we grow in rotation with arable crops.

The lambs are sold live or dead, depending on the price at the time. We grow 890ha of combinable crops, including winter wheat, winter barley and oilseed rape and 130ha of potatoes.

How will you manage your farm, given your new responsibilities?

Paul and Nigel are at an age where they want the responsibility. They are quite happy for me to disappear on a Monday morning and come back on a Friday.

In fact, no one worked harder than they did to make sure I was elected. We have also got an excellent team of 16 staff; more than half of those have been with us for more than 20 years. We are very fortunate that we have a very good pool of labour.

What are the main issues and challenges on your own farm – and indeed for farming in general – in the next five years?

We will be 15-20% worse off as a direct result of CAP reform over the next five years, and that will have a huge effect on our farm’s income.

But this highlights that as an industry farmers need more from the marketplace.

We must improve relationships along the supply chain, from the supplier to the retailer, to make sure they are transparent and that there is reasonable equity, which in time should allow better returns for the primary producer.

But farmers are going to have to play their part by co-operating and helping to build those relationships. As an industry our record on co-operation has been pretty dismal.

As a Welsh farmer, will it be difficult for you to lead a substantially English union, particularly as devolution is making farm policy different from one side of Offa’s Dyke to the other?

No. The NFU represents more than 47,000 businesses and 15% of those are in Wales. I was elected as president, and as such have the mandate of farmers in both England and Wales.

Although there are devolved issues, many of the decisions that affect English and Welsh farmers are taken in Europe. I have years of experience of lobbying in Brussels and Westminster.

Are there too many unions for UK farmers? 

My interest is in our own membership, but I am prepared to talk to other organisations.

Given the MPs’ vote against badger culling, is it time to review plans and proposals to cull badgers?

Culling is hugely emotive, but you only need to look at the result from culling in southern Ireland, where the incidence of bovine TB was reduced by 50% in four years.

That proves to me that the politicians in Wales have got it wrong. Farmers are trying to control the disease with one hand tied behind their backs. Conversely, Owen Paterson understands the effect of the disease.

What are you most looking forward to in the job?

It is a privilege to be president of the NFU and a highly responsible position. I am looking forward to building on the work I was involved in for eight years as deputy and to make farming evermore profitable and important.

What aspects are you least looking forward to?

I do despair that in Wales the policymakers have not understood what a significant effect TB is having on huge numbers of farmers. They don’t seem prepared to grasp that problem.

How do you feel taking over from Peter Kendall, who has been widely touted as the best NFU president ever?

It was a privilege to work with Peter and I believe we were a good team. It gave me an appreciation of the intensity and the importance of the role and of how time-consuming it will be.

I am fortunate to have served as Peter’s deputy for a number of years and during that time I have got to know the key policymakers, ministers and members of the European Commission. That has put me in good stead to serve as president; those relationships are already in place.

How do you feel about starting with a completely new team?

It is very exciting. It is nice to see a woman at the top table. Minette Batters has got there by her own merit. Guy Smith is known to be fairly direct and has a great understanding of farming.

How is the NFU going to minimise the effect of CAP reform on farms?

Two years ago, when the commission’s proposals were first published, it was only through intense lobbying that we were able to scale back the excesses of the original proposals.

There is still work to be done, not least in getting a rethink of the three-crop rule. This rule is absolutely ridiculous and a cost burden to farmers. We will keep arguing that the commission must revisit this in two years’ time and it is important that we keep that argument going, because whether a farmer has an arable or livestock system, it will affect them.

I believe the current reform could set back farming in England and Wales by 20 years; we will therefore be looking for a more modern and competitive package from 2020 onwards.

There is always going to be pressure on budget, but it is important that the money is invested in farming for the future rather than fossilising the industry.

Are you in favour of GM crops?

With all the challenges we face of feeding a growing population I am totally in favour of biotechnology. In the 1940s we saw the start of the “green revolution”, led by Norman Borlaug, who used technology transfer initiatives to increase production from agriculture.

We will need another green revolution in the next 40 years if we are to feed nine billion people. It is important to invest in research and development.

As farmers we must have the opportunity to use modern science, particularly if British agriculture is going to be in a position to compete in global markets.

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