Stowmarket: ‘We’ve moved on from grumpy old men image’, says NFU president Peter Kendall

Peter Kendall, outgoing president of the National Farmers' Union speaking to Suffolk Farmers

Peter Kendall, outgoing president of the National Farmers' Union speaking to Suffolk Farmers

Farmers have forged a new identity for themselves, far removed from the ‘grumpy old men’ image which made them unpopular in a previous era, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) outgoing president told Suffolk farmers today.

Peter Kendall, outgoing president of the National Farmers' Union speaking to Suffolk Farmers

Peter Kendall, outgoing president of the National Farmers' Union speaking to Suffolk Farmers

Peter Kendall, who is widely credited with helping to transform the perception of UK farming following a series of setbacks including the outbreak of BSE in cattle, was addressing members of the Suffolk branch of the NFU gatherered for its annual general meeting.

Peter Kendall, outgoing president of the National Farmers' Union speaking to Suffolk Farmers

Peter Kendall, outgoing president of the National Farmers' Union speaking to Suffolk Farmers

“It was viewed by the outside world as being an old-fashioned, backward industry,” he told delegates.

Peter Kendall, outgoing president of the National Farmers' Union speaking to Suffolk Farmers

Peter Kendall, outgoing president of the National Farmers' Union speaking to Suffolk Farmers

But a series of issues had worked in the sector’s favour and perceptions such as that farmers were bad for the environment were now being replaced by far more positive ones, with the public and politicians warming to the sector.

“My biggest measure of the success I think we have collectively achieved is that there are more young people going into agricultural colleges. I think we have moved away from the ‘we are grumpy old men complaining about our lot’ to young people thinking this would not be a bad place to go and work.”


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Food price spikes and UK chief scientist John Beddington’s predictions of a ‘perfect storm’ of food, water and resource shortages had helped to alter this, he said.

“We have actually got to a place now where the Government really is starting to pay attention,” he said.

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The Government’s announcement about a £160million investment into agri-tech in a climate of financial austerity was an example of this sea-change, he believed. With Cambridge and Norwich as centres of agricultural research, the region was “brilliantly placed” to make the most of this.

But there were challenges, including demographic predictions for the population growth of the UK, and more imported food, he said.

“We will be less than 50% self-sufficient if we don’t pull our finger out, and find ways of producing more food in a sustainable way,” he said.

But farmers should “remember where we came from” on renewables, he added, and in spite of controversies over massive solar farms, with the loss of prime growing land and burning straw for energy, it was possible to get the best of both worlds if we move smartly in areas such as anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. This could be done by using more waste products rather than crops in the AD process, for example, and looking at uses for by-products so that renewables complemented rather than competed with food production.

“We should prioritise where we can food production,” he said.

“I think we should be clear about our objectives. I think we should be primarily food producers.”

But he added: “We wanted alternative uses for our land, for the products we produce.”

Horsegate, the food scandal which exposed the use of horsemeat in food products, was ultimately “a big win” for farmers, he said. Long supply chains had been exposed, and farmers had received a lot of publicity. Retailers were now vying for bragging rights over how much British produce they sold, he pointed out.

In a wide-ranging speech he welcomed the appointment of Christine Tacon as supermarket watchdog, expressed concern over a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides on farms claiming there was a lack of science behind the decision, and explained the NFU’s strategy on the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy, including its concerns about the “three-crop” rule.

“The decision-making over neonicotinoids is absolutely fraught with politics, lobbying and not science,” he said.

And Mr Kendall, who is due to stand down in February after eight years at the helm, foresaw a future where farmers no longer relied on subsidy.

“I do have an ambition that we depend less and less on support from Government,” he said. “Let’s move over time to being more market friendly and less support from tax payers.”

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