Minette Batters reflects on the future at Semex Dairy Conference

30 January 2024

A photo of Minette Batters on stage at the Semex International Dairy Conference.

NFU President Minette Batters reflects upon her years as NFU President and offers some encouraging thoughts on the future at the Semex International Dairy Conference.

For the third and final time as NFU President, Minette Batters took to the stage at the Semex international conference in Glasgow as the opening keynote speaker.

Minette reflected on her time as President, which has included navigating the UK’s exit from the European Union, helping to keep food supply chains moving during the pandemic and steering the sector through the repercussions of a war in Europe and soaring input prices.

Huge uncertainty

During this time she has worked with four prime ministers and six Defra secretaries of state, all of whom had very different ideas on how to do the job.

It was clear at the conference that the last few months of her tenure were not going to be any quieter, with huge uncertainty across the sector linked to a sluggish milk price, continuing high costs, poor labour availability and the increasing cost of compliance with industry regulations.

The NFU’s Dairy Producer Intentions Survey last summer found that over 30% of producers are unsure about their future in the industry.

However, looking at the year ahead Minette did highlight some key NFU success which we have to look forward to.

Fairer footing

Firstly, after over 10 years of lobbying for fairer, more transparent and better functioning supply chains, Minette announced that she expects the dairy contract regulation to finally be laid before Parliament on the second day of NFU Conference. 

The regulation, which will apply to all contracts between producers and first purchasers, should ensure there is much more transparency over how prices are formulated, any changes to contract terms and conditions are mutually agreed, and there is a clear complaints procedure, leading all the way up to the Secretary of State, should buyers be found not to be complying with fair dealings’ rules.

It should also help to put farmers in a stronger position to be able to work together to form producer groups and organisations to strengthen their hand in future contract negotiations and help prevent one-sided contract terms.

Read: Dairy contracts regulations – how we're keeping dairy farmers at the forefront

New markets

Secondly, the new Dairy Export Programme, which has been set up by the DBT (Department for Business and Trade) following extensive talks with the industry, should come into action this year.

The programme, funded by the £1 million budget for dairy promotion announced at last year’s Farm to Fork Summit, will see the development of an industry-wide promotional strategy, fund additional personnel in overseas markets specifically focused on dairy promotion, and include a UK dairy showcase, which will bring buyers in from all around the world for a large-scale buyer matching activity.

Minette also highlighted to international delegates in Glasgow the support that the UK public has for British agriculture and the importance the rural vote will undoubtedly play in the next general election.

The NFU’s Election Manifesto has a number of key asks to support the future of British farming. These include a call for an annual agricultural budget of £4 billion to support the delivery of a balanced agricultural policy, a smooth and seamless transition to new environmental schemes which are accessible, less bureaucratic and linked to profitability, as well as the need to set core production standards on all agri-food imports and establish a new food security index and target for the UK.

Read: Farming for Britain's Future: our election manifesto


Recent furore on farm assurance did not go unmentioned at Semex. Minette joined a panel consisting of Farmer’s Weekly Deputy Editor Abi Kay and market analyst Chris Walkland where the future of assurance in agriculture was roundly discussed.

The NFU President made it clear that there would be a full, independent review to examine the role assurance plays in the agricultural sector and assess how important it is to food safety, branding,
provenance and different sector needs.

This review will seek to capture views across the industry, including farmers, growers, merchants and processors. However, she also made it clear that the industry needed to avoid becoming polarised by the debate over farm assurance and ensure the focus is not taken away from some of the challenges facing the agriculture sector which can only be tackled with improved trust and collaboration.

Read more about the ongoing farm assurance reviews: Farm assurance reviews

Her take-home message to the conference was to “unite” and work together to strengthen the supply chain and improve business confidence, drive investment and help deliver a more resilient, prosperous dairy sector.

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