After eight years as NFU president, clearing out his office has been a big job for Peter Kendall. But it’s a task that has made him realise how much the industry has changed in that time.
Taking on the role in the midst of the fiasco with single farm payments, poor prices and little government support, the industry was, in his words, miserable.
“I’ve been finding congratulatory letters from 2006 and early British Farmer and Grower editorials I wrote and it’s clear many people were in a desperate place.
“There were so many things going wrong, so many sectors were having a difficult time and questioning their self-worth. The industry totally lacked confidence.”
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It’s a feeling he hopes is in the past as he makes way for his successor at the NFU conference in Birmingham next week.
Having got over his initial shock of being thrust into a position of power, Mr Kendall’s time as president has been marked by an attempt to inject positivity into the sector and promote it as a vital part of the British economy.
What has Kendall brought to the NFU?
Guy Smith, Essex farmer and author of A history of the NFU
He will be remembered as one of the great presidents. We needed someone with a “can-do” style, and the relentless positivity of Peter fitted that perfectly. He was lucky in respect of not really being tested in the way Ben Gill was with foot-and-mouth, but he was a moderniser and leaves the union in a better condition than he found it.
David Handley, Farmers For Action
We have had a fair number of spats, but I have always known he didn’t hold anything back and that he could take criticism, too. He has opened up access to the NFU like no president before him and his communication skills are tremendous. He’s a gentleman and I regard him as a friend.
Richard Macdonald, former NFU director
Peter has been a man for his time – bright, articulate, challenging and not afraid to stand his ground. He has been a pleasure to work with, hard work at times because he is demanding, but demanding in a positive way. It’s a pleasure to say he’s a good friend.
Jilly Greed, Devon beef farmer
Peter has been a strong leader and has embraced the essential need of being a good communicator. As an arable farmer he perhaps doesn’t resonate with livestock farmers in the west of the country, but he has driven the TB issue with vision and determination to stand up for the farming community.
“I was determined to be upbeat about British farming and its potential and one of my biggest successes has been to have the courage to keep positive,” he says.
“Even in the dark times we have used the opportunity to big-up the farming industry.”
It was a strategy that saw British farming move up the government’s agenda, helped along by a conscious effort to work more closely with other farming organisations.
“Right from day one, when I went to see [then environment secretary] Margaret Beckett on SPS, we got together with the CLA and TFA to work together,” he says. “And we’ve continued that with things such as set-aside, SOS Dairy and CAP reform.
“I didn’t want the NFU out there on its own, because we’d seen in 2004 how Mrs Beckett rode a coach and horses through the NFU, TFA and CLA on their differences on CAP reform.
“When I started, food production was an inconvenient by-product of environmental management, but by working together we have pushed agricultural production up the political agenda and the industry is in a better place.”
Other highlights of his time as president have included the opportunity to travel and learn about businesses across England and Wales and the work promoting the sector to young people.
“Colleges are seeing student numbers rise and there are waiting lists to study full-time agriculture,” he says. “I hope that’s because we haven’t been moaning but telling people this is an exciting, high-tech and innovative industry.”
But there have been disappointments, too.
“Despite trying, the depths of the Treasury don’t understand the importance of farming as the producers of the raw materials for the biggest manufacturing sector in the country,” he says. “We failed miserably with the Treasury on agricultural building allowances.”
However, he is happy with the position he is leaving the NFU in. The union saw its 17-year decline in membership halt during his tenure.
“We’re now in a strong position. Membership income is strong and the organisation has a great team of experienced staff who have been incredible to work with and will help whoever follows me do a fantastic job.
“Whoever that is will have an incredible time. Being president of the NFU has made me the most fortunate person in British agriculture.”