NFU leadership hopefuls have set out their stalls – travelling across the country to meet their fellow farmers and secure votes as the union prepares to elect its next president.
Seven candidates are fighting it out for the three NFU officeholder roles of president, deputy president and vice-president.
The election race kicked off this week as the would-be leaders were quizzed by farmers at hustings across England and Wales.
The battle to become union leader is a straight fight between current deputy president Minette Batters and current vice-president Guy Smith – following a decision by Meurig Raymond to stand down as NFU president after four years.
Predicting election winners in a democracy is seldom easy – there is always an element of surprise. It is widely expected that Ms Batters will become the first female president in the NFU’s 110-year history. But she will face a strong challenge from Mr Smith.
The other positions are harder to forecast, with Mr Smith also standing for the role of deputy president. He will be challenged by current NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes, outgoing livestock chairman Charles Sercombe and NFU Hertfordshire chairman Stuart Roberts.
All four are strong candidates for the deputy role. It would be a step up the rung for Mr Smith. As NFU commodity board chairmen, Mr Oakes and Mr Sercombe have years of experience. And Mr Roberts has served as a Defra civil servant, as well as being a farmer.
Other than Mr Smith, the remaining three deputy candidates are also standing for the role of vice-president.
They are joined in this battle by Somerset farmer James Small and Staffordshire farmer Richard Bower. The winner of this race could be any of the candidates – depending on who is elected deputy.
What are the NFU elections?
NFU leadership elections are held every two years immediately after the union’s annual conference and AGM.
This year’s conference takes place in Birmingham on 20-21 February and the union will elect its next leadership team directly afterwards.
Candidates must secure at least 50% of the vote to win (see candidate profiles overleaf). If this doesn’t happen in the first round of votes, a “devil takes the hindmost” approach sees the candidate with least votes drop out until an eventual winner is found.
Winners serve a two-year term until the next election.
- Standing for President
- Age 50
- County Wiltshire
- Enterprises Beef, sheep and arable. Wedding and corporate events venue
- Area farmed 120ha
- Tenure type Tenanted
- In her own words Hard-grafting farmer, businesswoman, mother
Minette Batters wants to increase the number of NFU members, arguing that the union must be relevant to all producers as it pushes the government for a good Brexit deal for agriculture.
A confident performer in front of the media and farmers, she says the new officeholder team must “hit the ground running” and “make the case for agriculture to the nation” – not just food producers.
By standing for president only, Minette Batters is asking the NFU Council to “back me or sack me”.
She is popular and persuasive. It will take a tough challenge to stop her being the union’s first female leader.
- Standing for President/deputy
- Age 58
- County Essex
- Enterprises Complex family farming business involving arable, dairy, beef and agri-tourism
- Area 500ha
- Tenure Owned/tenanted
- In his own words Committed, strategic, experienced, open, media-savvy
Strong political representation of farming has never been more important, Guy Smith says.
Farmers are food producers and must be profitable to deliver for the environment, he adds.
The NFU must convince consumers and politicians alike that UK agriculture is worthy of their support – and that the high standards of which British farmers are rightly proud cannot be delivered for free.
Guy Smith has rightly ensured a proper contest rather than a coronation by challenging Minette Batters for president. But he is also standing for deputy – a role he is more likely to secure this time around.
- Standing for Deputy/vice-president
- Age 52
- County Outskirts of Birmingham/Worcestershire
- Enterprises Dairy
- Area 145ha
- Tenure Tenanted
- In his own words Farmer, committed, resilient, approachable, experienced
Having represented farmers at local, regional and national levels, Michael Oakes knows the NFU inside out – and argues that it needs strong leadership and a solid, high-performing officeholder team.
He believes his focus as NFU dairy chairman on the three key areas of supply chains, competitiveness and promoting the best of British is a good blueprint for all farming sectors.
He argues that the union must be more proactive across all levels to secure the best Brexit deal.
A steadying force with progressive ideas following years representing the dairy sector, Michael Oakes has a better chance of becoming vice-president than deputy.
- Standing for Deputy/vice-president
- Age 43
- County Hertfordshire and Kent
- Enterprises Combinable crops, commercial suckler herd, embryonic pedigree Hereford herd and doorstep egg business
- Area 450ha
- Tenure type Owned/tenanted (Herts), FBT (Kent)
- In his own words #focused, #TeamPlayer, #LeanerThanIUsedToBe, #Pragmatist, #ProudDad
A third-generation farmer, Stuart Roberts has “walked the corridors of power” in previous roles that include policy and delivery work within Defra and the Food Standards Agency – as well as senior management positions within the meat supply chain.
He faced questions after resigning as AHDB Beef & Lamb chairman in 2015, but insists the NFU is for the long haul. Farm policy must have food production at its core to deliver wider public benefits, he says.
A strong candidate, Stuart Roberts must see off Guy Smith to become deputy – or hope NFU Council takes the unusual step of electing two officeholders from the same region so he becomes vice-president.
- Standing for deputy/vice-president
- Age 52
- County Leicestershire
- Enterprises Mixed, mainly sheep
- Area 370ha
- Tenure FBT, grass keep, share farming
- In his own words Progressive, determined, open-minded, inclusive, competitive
Open, fair and transparent supply chains that provide a return to all parties proportionate to the risks involved are a priority for Charles Sercombe.
Farmers must be more market- focused and create a “point of difference” for UK food, he believes.
Agriculture must be at the forefront of Brexit, he says, and the NFU must intensify its lobbying to secure the best possible deal for its members.
Having served six years as NFU livestock chairman, Charles Sercombe has the experience, and must now broaden his appeal beyond his own sector to secure a top table seat.
- Standing for Vice-president
- Age 31
- County Staffordshire
- Enterprises Beef and cereals with Higher Level Stewardship
- Area 300ha
- Tenure Owner-occupied, rented and share farming
- In his own words Energetic, rational, dedicated, innovative, collaborative
A Harper Adams graduate, Richard Bower gained postgraduate management training and supply chain experience before returning to the family farm in 2011.
]Chairman of the NFU Next Generation forum, he has harnessed social media to push his message that younger farmers should have more say in forging a better future for UK agriculture.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” he says.
Richard Bower has every chance of being elected in a race which could see him become the NFU’s youngest ever vice-president. If he doesn’t win, he will be one to watch for the future.
- Standing for Vice-president
- Age 42
- County Somerset
- Enterprises Mixed livestock, sheep, beef and a glamping business
- Area farmed 465ha
- Tenure Owner-occupied, AHA, a FBT, grazing license and contract grazing
- In his words Confident, practical, good-listener, reliable, considerate
James Small has represented farmers for more than 12 years across a range of roles – including on the NFU’s TB forum.
He believes the union must be more “fleet of foot” to secure a productive, progressive and profitable future for food and farming.
Free and frictionless trade is a must after Brexit, but farming and the NFU will thrive if “we work together”.
Popular in his native south-west region, James Small has much to offer the NFU nationally, although he says his young family will always come first.
How the voting system works
NFU officeholders are elected by the union’s ruling council, which consists of about 80 representatives – usually a chairman and delegate – from the counties of England and Wales. Council representatives themselves are elected by regular NFU members in their home county.
Votes are weighted according to the county’s share of member subscriptions as a proportion of total NFU subscription income (see table below). This means counties with more NFU members have a bigger say than smaller counties because votes reflect the size of NFU membership in each county.
Candidates must secure at least 50% of the vote to win. If this doesn’t happen in the first round of votes, a “devil take the hindmost” approach sees the candidate with least votes drop out. Other candidates may withdraw if they wish. The process is then repeated until a winner is found.
|Beds & Hunts||3||2||5|
|Berks, Bucks & Oxon||6||6||12|
|Brecon & Radnor||4||0||4|
|Gloucs & N Avon||4||4||8|
|Isle of Wight||n/a||1||1|
|Leics, Northants, Rutland||6||6||12|
|N Riding & Durham||6||5||11|
|Somerset & S Avon||6||6||12|
|Yorks & W Riding||4||4||8|
|(Weighting may change following NFU audit committee final adjustments on 29 January 2018)|