The end of an era:Minette Batters bows out

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Passing the torch: as Tom Bradshaw steps into the pivotal role, he faces the daunting task of upholding farming’s future. Andrew Livingston reports

I cannot describe how much I love the NFU Conference. Slightly sad, I know.
There just isn’t a year that goes by without something juicy to talk about. Who doesn’t love a politician being made to sweat by a collection of irate British farmers? Birmingham’s NEC is fast becoming the Ally Pally of the farming world.
This year was the first time since Gordon Brown’s tenure that an incumbent Prime Minister came to give a speech. Rishi Sunak’s appearance was appreciated by the NFU members – but don’t believe for a second that he has some deep love of doing what is right for the farmers. Rishi came for one thing and one thing only – votes.
Gordon tried the same tactic of winning the rural vote back in 2008, but in the 2010 General Election Labour lost power for the first time since Tony Blair won the 1997 General Election.
A sign of things to come?

A stormy decade
Despite my love for a bit of political schmoozing, the most interesting thing to discuss is that it was Minette Batters’ final NFU Conference as the organisation’s president, before being replaced by her deputy, Tom Bradshaw.
Minette runs her tenanted family farm in Wiltshire – a 100-cow suckler herd, sheep, arable land and now British flowers. For a decade, she has either been NFU deputy president or president, a position she has held since 2018.
I wouldn’t say that she ran the ship during the most tumultuous of times – I would argue the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001 was possibly a worse time to be president. Nevertheless, the 57-year-old has shepherded British agriculture through huge changes over the last decade.
In 2019, Minette Batters was the face of the NFU’s commitment to be Net Zero (carbon neutral) by 2040. The ambition of being carbon neutral a decade before the British government’s national pledge was a big step, but in an NFU report, Minette explained why: ‘Agriculture is uniquely placed to be part of the solution, as an emissions source and a sink. But we must and can do more.’
With the current financial climate, both nationally and in agriculture, there will be huge pressure on the new president either to renege on these environmental commitments or to emphasise that farmers must not falter from the Net Zero objectives. Unfortunately, being green isn’t the most financially beneficial way to run a farm. If it were, farmers would have done it for years.
In 2020, the UK officially left the European Union, which had been financially supporting farmers and keeping agricultural businesses afloat. Since then, Minette has battled hard for UK farmers not to be undercut by cheap imports from new trade deals, while also fighting for farm subsidies to be continued responsibly by our own government.
During all of this , there has been the little matter of a global pandemic, the worst ever Avian Influenza outbreak on our shores, about 50 different Prime Ministers and a war in Ukraine that has sent the costs to farming through the roof, making the whole industry unsustainable.
It’s not hyperbole to state that Minette was the most powerful woman in British farming. She was the first woman to be NFU president and she has been front and centre of the NFU throughout her time, fighting for farmers on every issue, no matter how big or small.
Over to you, Tom Bradshaw. You’ve got a big pair of wellies to fill.

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