New farming leader elected for Worcestershire

13 December 2021

West Midlands

Jake Freestone will become the new Worcestershire NFU chairman in February. 

A new farming leader will make the case for Worcestershire agriculture and horticulture after being voted in as the new NFU county chairman.

Jake Freestone, Overbury Enterprises farm manager, was voted in unopposed at the union’s county annual general meeting at the YFC Centre, Hawford, last week (Nov 30) to lead county farmers for the next two years.

He takes over the chairman’s post from James Appleby, of Bretforton, who was applauded by around 40 farmers at the meeting for his sterling work on their behalf during a very challenging term of office.

Mr Appleby will continue to represent county farmers on the NFU’s regional dairy board.

At the meeting he thanked NFU members for their support and said the Covid pandemic and Brexit had dominated his chairmanship that even the weather had been insignificant in comparison.

Mr Appleby spoke about the free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, the loss of support payments, TB and the Sustainable Farming Incentive among other issues.

He also discussed county sector demands including the need for there to be a solution to county farming’s workforce shortfall.

“The loss of freedom of movement from the EU is causing a shortage of seasonal workers throughout Worcestershire, which mostly affects the horticultural and soft fruit sectors,” he said.

“The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) is providing 30,000 visas for seasonal staff but needs to be increased to 60,000 at least to enable fruit, vegetables and flowers to be harvested next year.

“Most sectors of the economy are short of staff due to Brexit, and we need a solution and fast.

“At least the agricultural and horticultural sectors have SAWS and there are no other industries that have anything that is comparable.

“This is due to NFU lobbying and especially to Worcestershire grower and NFU horticulture chairman Ali Capper, of Suckley, who has, and still does, work tirelessly on labour issues for members.

“I’d like to thank her and our other officeholders for the work they do.”

Mr Appleby then discussed stepping down from his officeholder role and wished his deputy chairman all the best as chairman.

He said: “Jake will take over and he is well known to everyone as a Nuffield scholar, NFU crops board member, guest speaker and having won many farming awards over the years.

“Congratulations and best wishes for the next two years.”

Jake will officially take over following NFU Conference and the national annual general meeting in February, in Birmingham.

A Pershore and Upton NFU member, he is the farm manager at the 1,600 hectare Overbury Estate on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border.

The business has livestock and cereal crops, and Jake is very enthusiastic about no till conservation agriculture and regenerative farming practices.

This was the topic he researched during his Nuffield scholarship in 2013.

Jake is the current Soil Farmer of the Year and was a finalist at the 2021 Farmers Weekly Awards in the Farm Manager of the Year category, going on to be crowned 2021 Environmental Champion of the Year.

Mr Freestone said: “When James became county chairman we soon went into lockdown, and everyone had to self-isolate, life changed significantly - he handled this very well and made sure he communicated with us all and kept us up-to-date.

“He also stepped up ably when we were able to meet up again, at the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution dinner and at Hanbury Show for example.   

“A big thank you to him and we will catch up again in the future no doubt.”

Other items on the meeting agenda included commodity board reports and a presentation to the best county group.

This was won by Kidderminster NFU group secretary Louise Sapwell in recognition of her work to benefit and support members and their businesses and was based on her membership performance for the year.

For further information about the NFU’s lobbying work or to join the union, farmers and growers can contact their local group secretary or the regional office on 01952 400500. 

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