With public support for British produced food increasing, NFU President Minette Batters urged the thirty-five NFU North West Ambassadors who joined a special virtual question and answer session, to make their voices heard.
The NFU North West Ambassadors are grassroot members of the organisation who want to fight for their industry by getting actively involved in NFU policy development and campaigning.
And they had plenty of questions for Minette when they joined a Microsoft Teams call with her on Thursday 8 October which was chaired by NFU Lancashire Chair Lisa Edwards.
Amy Wilkinson of White Otter Farm in Southport asked: “The presence of the public on farms has become a bigger issue now more than ever before. Over the past few months there has been a rise with the public just wondering around working farms and vegan extremists protesting or just opening gates and 'freeing' animals, putting themselves in often dangerous situations. They do not understand that working farms are often family homes and the effect these matters can have on farming families’ feelings of safety. I am wondering what the NFU is doing to educate the public on the dangers of farmyards and what they are doing to aid farmers in these situations?
Minette said: “Let’s be clear Amy that these activists are actually farm terrorists and need to be challenged at the very highest level. With regards to access, we are getting close to obtaining legislation where we can temporarily divert access to footpaths to safer routes. The network of footpaths we have running through our countryside and farms is globally unique. With more people now wanting access to the green gym the Countryside Code is more important than ever.”
Chris Molyneux of Scarisbrick then asked: “Due to market led narrowing of supply chains to minimise cost and hence keep prices low, we are losing the diversity of supply and products themselves. Hence consumer choice is narrowing. What can the NFU do?
Minette answered: “We need to get back to local and added value. We need more collaboration in the farming community. We need to start buying together and selling together.”
Jonathan Shorrock from Burnley asked: “There seems to be an appetite from Natural England to reduce or remove sheep from the hills. What is the NFU’s take on this and are there any plans to fight this?
Minette said: “First and foremost the NFU is here to represent farmers who produce food. Achieving good returns from the market for our products is going to be essential as we are going to have to make an exceptional case for public funding in the future because money is going to be tight. For that reason alone, it would be a disastrous move to remove stock from the hills.
Alistair Dobson from Malpas in Cheshire asked: “Mass unemployment is likely due to Covid-19. How can we encourage people to enter agriculture? I believe we must offer sufficient training to enable people to have the skills required.
Minette said: “Agriculture has to turn this into a success story and make the case for the vibrant industry we are. Via our NFU Education team we are already bringing farming into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) learning in schools. Teachers are telling us that our materials have transformed a lot of pupil’s understanding of STEM.”
NFU Cheshire County Chairman Richard Blackburn asked Minette: “You say that we are communicating well with government and the public are right behind farmers, yet our access to quality labour has again been compromised by the refusal of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to put highly skilled herdsmen on the occupation shortage list. What more can we do to make our voices heard?
Minette replied: “MAC has been good for the NHS but undeniably unhelpful when it comes to agriculture. They’ve even said we don’t have to produce food in this country. That is what we are dealing with.”
Joe Bramall, NFU’s Student & Young Farmer Ambassador, asked: “I just wanted to ask about the recent reduction of beef and lamb from Sheffield University menus. How do we confront or engage these institutions and get our message across to them because at the moment it doesn’t seem like it is?
Minette answered: “Student unions are actually driving this, not the universities themselves. We deal with it by showing we can produce carbon neutral food.”
Several other questions were asked including good contributions from NFU Carlisle Group Secretary Ian Mandle and Andrew Barraclough who farms in Penrith.
James Raine of Kirkoswald rounded the session off by thanking the NFU President for the tireless work she does on behalf of the industry.