The contest for the top officeholder jobs at the NFU in England kicks off in earnest this week with a series of online hustings events.
Incumbent president Minette Batters will not face a challenge for her position and is set to return for a third term if she receives more than 75% of the NFU Council’s vote.
However, the race for the deputy and vice-president roles is hotting up.
The current vice-president, Tom Bradshaw, a fourth-generation arable farmer based at Fordham in Essex, will fight it out for the deputy president role against the current NFU Cymru president, John Davies, a beef and sheep farmer from Powys.
There will be a three-way battle for the vice-president’s role involving Mr Davies – if he is unsuccessful in his bid for deputy – David Exwood, NFU South East regional board chairman, who farms in West Sussex, and Thomas Wornham, NFU National Poultry Board chairman who farms in Hertfordshire.
Whoever wins will be tasked with fighting the corner for farming at a critical time as the industry embarks on a seven-year transition period which will see the phased removal of direct support and the introduction of a new domestic green agricultural policy alongside the threat of cheap food imports.
The election hopefuls will be making their pitch for the posts at three virtual hustings events, which will be open to NFU members only, at 2pm and 7pm on Monday (17 January) and 10am on Tuesday (18 January).
The officeholder elections will be held after the NFU’s AGM on 23 February 2022, which is currently scheduled to take place at the NFU Conference at the ICC in Birmingham.
Ahead of the hustings, the candidates released personal statements setting out their ambitions.
Twitter: @Minette_Batters – uncontested for president
Minette is a tenant farmer from Wiltshire who has been NFU president since February 2018. She farms a beef herd, sheep and arable and runs a wedding and events venue. She was a co-founder of Ladies in Beef and The Great British Beef Week.
She says in her statement: “Progress has been made in the last two years: government commitment to a global seasonal agricultural workers scheme, ELMs is now focused on sustainable farming and the Trade and Agriculture Commission has become a statutory one, with powers in the Agriculture Act to report to parliament.
“These wins and many others have been very hard fought by the NFU, but I know the next two years will be just as critical and we will need to continue to campaign for a better future, from education and rural crime to environment and climate friendly food.
“Farming must connect with every section of society and across all political parties, fighting myths and misconceptions that threaten our industry.
“My focus will be leading a team that fights for a new economic model for farming, driving profit back into the land by developing new environmental trades, and a fair return from supply chains.”
Twitter: @ProagriLtd – running for deputy president
Tom has represented the union from local branch chairman through to chair of the National Combinable Crops Board and current vice-president.
He farms in partnership with his wife, Emily, and his parents in north Essex. Alongside a small owned farm they run a larger contract farming business growing a range of combinable crops across 950ha in north-east Essex. The home farm is based around arable production but has also diversified into equestrian and renewables.
Tom said: “I don’t look at this through rose-tinted spectacles and recognise the challenges of new trade and immigration policies and the implementation of a new agricultural policy.
“We must focus on turning this pivotal time of change into opportunity. We need to concentrate on domestic regulations to make sure they enable productive, profitable agriculture and that policies like Farming Rules for Water and the Clean Air Strategy don’t simply add cost.
“Profitability is at the heart of sustainability. Whether it be food production or environmental markets, we need all parties to recognise the importance of fair returns.”
Twitter: @Johnpentre – running for deputy and vice-president
The current president of NFU Cymru, John farms with his family in Merthyr Cynog, near Brecon. He is married to Menna and they have two children, Sioned and Brychan. He has 100 suckler cows, 1,000 ewes, and runs a silage contracting business and holiday accommodation.
John is currently club leader of his local Pontfaen YFC and a community councillor. He was president of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society (RWAS) in 2012 and currently sits on the RWAS board of management.
He said: “A passionate advocate of farming and food production, I’ve been heavily involved in the NFU net-zero work. While climate change is the challenge of our generation, I believe we are uniquely placed to provide many of the solutions.
“My family farming values and lifelong involvement in the Young Farmers movement mean I’m an ardent believer in the importance of enthusing, encouraging and embracing future generations of British farmers.
“We need a profitable farming policy across the UK that recognises the higher regulatory burden and delivers our ambition to be the world’s most climate friendly food producers.”
Running for vice-president
Fourth generation farmer Thomas farms with his family on a mixed arable and poultry unit in Hertfordshire. He is currently the current NFU poultry board chairman and has been involved in the union for many years.
The family farm consists of 160,000 broilers, supplying Hook2Sisters, and 40ha of arable farmland. He has planted 5,000 trees and hedgerows under Countryside Stewardship which complement the solar panels and biomass boilers, to create a carbon neutral business.
Thomas said: “During the last two calamitous years, farmers have kept our nation fed; we have enhanced the variety and beauty of the landscape for all to enjoy. Conversely, our air, soil and water are being ravished. It is this conundrum I wish to grapple, if elected as vice-president.
“During 12 years of adventure with the NFU, I’ve worked to redress this disparity; reducing rodenticide use, promoting insect production and attending the opening of two Agricultural Centres of Excellence.
“I believe farming must build relationships across industries, incorporate social sustainability and develop technological solutions, such that food production can work harmoniously with nature, creating a robust, profitable food system fit for the 21st century.”
Twitter: @DavidatWestons – running for vice-president
First-generation tenant farmer David is the current NFU South East regional chairman. He runs Westons Farm and Westons Farm Shop, in Itchingfield, West Sussex.
He said: “The future of farming isn’t about managed decline and dependence on environmental payments; it’s about creating new opportunities for profitable food production alongside net zero and biodiversity.
As a first-generation beef, sheep and arable farmer over 1,000 tenanted hectares with a thriving farm shop, I understand the agriculture industry from all sides and how we can achieve this. I have wide experience in parliament and the media and I’m well placed to represent agriculture outside our industry.
“Working at the heart of the NFU as a regional chair and on governance boards, I understand the organisation and how it can help farming businesses at a time when the demands on farmers and the NFU are going to be greater than ever. Supporting the president and deputy is vital, and I’m standing for vice-president to be part of a strong team that will deliver for agriculture.”