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NFU found to be in fine form as it moves into a new era

Date Published: 27/02/2014

OF&G Research and Development Officer, Steven Jacobs, gives us his thoughts on this week’s NFU Conference:

Stephen Clarkson and I have come back from the 2014 NFU conference a little tired after listening to many talks, taking part in much debate and finding some time for the obligatory drinks over dinner, but overall our impression is one of another very well run NFU event and that it was the yearly big bash of an organisation in fine fettle.

Outgoing president, Peter Kendall, addresses the conference.
Outgoing president, Peter Kendall, addresses the conference.

The NFU is today a robust and dynamic beast. The membership are not easily led and the outgoing President Peter Kendall, while not always everyone’s cup of tea for his forthright and vocal approach to the job, has helped to focus attention on British farming as a strong member of the UK business community worthy of praise and worth investment, especially in the midst of extreme weather and unsure economics.

In the breakout sessions there were some voices of dissent Р as there often are. This year some were saying they were not prepared to listen to some speakers when they felt they were merely being sold a company line. NFU members do not hide their feelings. However this was a very small part of an otherwise smoothly run and well attended national event.

‘Backing the business of British Farming’ was the title this year and in the main hall the talks were from politicians and members of the business community from home and abroad. Most were of great interest to the large audience, with Ed Garner, of Kantar Worldpanel, providing what was perhaps the best received presentation of the two days with his trademark delivery of rapid wit and repartee peppering a highly detailed analysis of retail sales and shopper behaviour. According to Mr Garner, and using National Audit Office data, “food [compared to the 1960s] is cheap, you could argue it is too cheap”.

NFU Conference delegates

He then highlighted how some retail businesses are turning that around and attracting support from their customers. Waitrose has done so for years and now Sainsbury’s is following suit, “Price is less important than average [spend] to Sainsbury’s shoppers today”, with a photo showing the stats.

Being proud of their ability to offer high quality UK produce was a key message to the assembled audience this year. Several questions from the floor in the main sessions on this point were put to the luminaries on the main stage and in response to one, Ranjit Singh, the very successful boss of 2 Sisters Food Group said, to loud applause,
“New Zealand lamb is a best selling brand why can’t we do that with British lamb?”

And for me the last word should go to Peter Kendall who at the very end of the event said: “I’m not going to apologise for the niggles in the breakout groups. The issues need to be discussed.” Well, we say ‘hear hear’ and hope that the atmosphere of open debate within the National Farmers Union continues under the new leadership and for a long time to come.