NFU candidates vye for the presidential top spot

david Handley thumb

“I want to bring the NFU into the 21st century”

David Handley

Tim bennett thumb

“Without profit there is no future. This makes all other issues secondary”

Tim Bennett

Kendall thumb

“I have new ideas and will not accept an ‘it won’t work attitude”

Peter Kendall

Why do you think you are/would make a good NFU president?

TB: My sound knowledge of all sectors of agriculture and horticulture and my contacts in politics and the food industry, in the UK and Europe, mean the NFU’s influence has been maintained and enhanced.

DH: The president should be charismatic, a good team player and leader, with the ability to inspire people – all attributes I believe I have proved to the farming industry and wider audience. They are my natural assets.

PK: I’m still an ambitious, relatively youthful, farmer from a working family farm. I’m determined the NFU can build a future for all ambitious, working, farmers. I have new ideas and will not accept an “it won’t work” attitude.

Summarise your vision/manifesto for the role.

TB: My vision is a forward-looking, profitable industry with the confidence to grasp opportunities. For that, we must make the supply chain work fairly, get the government to regulate the industry in a way that does not damage our ability to compete, and most importantly, convince consumers to buy our superb products.

DH: I want to bring the NFU into the 21st century. In doing this, I know it will bring back many ex-members who have left the union, therefore strengthening the voice of the NFU wherever it speaks. Agriculture is global, needing a dynamic, democratic organisation to speak for it.

PK: I want to build a modern, highly-respected, NFU working effectively to secure a future for British agriculture, but I do not underestimate the enormity of that challenge. We’re at a “make or break” point in the history of our industry and I’m determined to give farmers confidence in the future.

Who is your role model? Is there a leader in another sector that you would like to emulate?

TB: Many other farm leaders: I know how tough their job is. Henry Plumb was president when I started farming and is now a great friend. He has never lost his passion for agriculture and farmers.

DH: Sir Clive Woodward (ex-England rugby union coach). Through determination he turned around a disillusioned team, took on the world and won. Proving if you are patient but robust, charismatic and a strong leader, you can win the ultimate goal.

PK: Henry Plumb was leader of the NFU in his mid-40s and he managed to unite agriculture at a pivotal time for the industry. His trademark and gift was plain speaking, which gained everyone’s respect.

Which key issue will you make your priority if elected?

TB: Profit: nothing else matters. Without profit there is no future, no investment, no well-managed countryside and a loss of skills and people that will never be replaced. This makes all other issues secondary.

DH: Food security. There’s increasing public concern about this and by taking a strong lead we can win a fairer deal for British farmers and persuade schools and hospitals to buy more locally-produced food.

PK: Our communication has been a disaster. We need to sort out this issue once and for all. We have good messages to give; we just need to be clever at getting them out.

Supermarket dominance is a key issue. What steps will you take to get farmers a fairer deal?

TB: I want to supply supermarkets, but not at any price. A tighter and wider Statutory Code of Practice is essential, and this means another Competition Commission inquiry into their use of power. This has to happen now. We must also sell our produce into the fast-growing local and public procurement markets – they help create competition for our products.

DH: The NFU must lead the campaign for a statutory code of conduct – two years have been wasted politely lobbying for a voluntary code. Now we must rigorously expose the worst practices of supermarkets and use the media spotlight to win public support. We must also build alliances with supportive groups – from Friends of the Earth to the Women’s Institute.

PK: The imbalance of power must be addressed through a revised statutory code. Parallel with this we have to learn how to use the consumer as a tool to influence the supermarkets. I think we should highlight good practice by retailers such as Waitrose and promote British farm produce so that consumers demand it.

What are you going to do to cut red tape?

TB: I have made cutting red tape a priority and DEFRA has made a commitment to reduce it by 25% – I will ensure this is delivered. There is still more to be done: we must have better regulation, better implementation and more self-regulation. Put simply, we must be treated as the professional industry that we are.

DH: We need to undertake a comprehensive audit of the costs of government and EU regulation and then lobby for the most expensive to be eradicated or simplified. We must show how regulations affect the cost of food for the consumer – that way we can win public support and persuade politicians to act.

PK: We must make the politicians, who listen to the demands from environmental groups, understand that excessive regulation is causing our nation’s food production to be exported, often to countries that do not have the same level of regulation. I am a believer that farming must demonstrate that we can be trusted to regulate ourselves through good practice.

How do you intend to improve farming’s image?

TB: Our image with consumers is improving, but we must do more to convert that increasingly sympathetic and favourable view into a demand for our food. I am determined to achieve this by working with everybody in the industry to ensure the message about our world-class, welfare-friendly food and beautiful, well-maintained, countryside is heard by all.

DH: By providing the kind of high-profile, dynamic, modern leadership for the NFU that has been missing recently. We must raise the importance of farming in the political sphere. Our task is to demonstrate that only a thriving British farming industry can continue to provide the highest-quality food and help to protect our countryside.

PK: We must work tirelessly to form alliances with other organisations to convey the importance of a strong UK-based agriculture. Together we must champion our high animal welfare standards, our environmental credentials, and ultimately that farming delivers our world-beating countryside. We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate farming as a provider of solutions for the future. Let’s get out there and sell it!

Where do you stand on direct action?

TB: Everyone has the right to protest in a free society and I support that right. However, militant action highlights extreme problems but does not solve them. My job is to find solutions to these problems.

DH: I have always preferred negotiation to protests. But we have to be prepared to occasionally use modern campaigning techniques developed by other groups, such as the Make Poverty History campaign, to make our case.

PK: Direct action does have a place in securing media attention but I do not intend to break the law. We are an industry that depends on the choices made by our customers and we must not take action that offends them.

How do you see the farming industry developing over the next five years?

TB: Once single payments are resolved the industry will change: Farmers will only produce if it is consistently profitable. That will lead to new markets growing quickly, from local food to non-food crops. If the supply chain wants our products it will have to treat us as genuine long-term partners.

DH: British farming is at crisis point. I fear that, without swift action, farming will continue to decline relentlessly with farmers leaving the industry. That’s why my priority will be to provide strong leadership for the farming industry to help restore profit and increase marketshare over two – not five – years.

PK: We are at the tipping point for British agriculture. If we allow the wrong decisions to be made we will see a significantly reduced agricultural industry, however, if it is managed correctly there is a bright and exciting future for us. We have the potential, we need to secure the opportunity.

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