The NFU has had a strong presence throughout the Conservative Party Conference, engaging with senior Conservative politicians and policy makers to ensure that the needs of British farmers remain a top priority for government.
On the second night of the conference, the NFU hosted a fringe event led by NFU President Minette Batters who stressed the need for unity across government as she held politicians to account for the lack of certainty on farming reform and policy.
The session brought together a panel of speakers which included, Farming Minister Mark Spencer MP, EFRA Committee Chair Sir Robert Goodwill MP, and Associate Director from YouGov Patrick English. The session was chaired by The Times journalist Alice Thomson.
The main question - What is the Conservative party’s vision for the future of farming and food security?
Public backing British farmers
Hot off the press, Patrick English delivered fresh data on how the rural community’s voting intention has shifted dramatically within the last few months.
During the summer, it was predicted that 43% would vote Conservative, with 24% voting Labour. Today those predictions are showing a complete reverse with Conservatives holding 28% of the vote against Labour’s 41%.
When looking at issues around food security, Patrick observed that fair treatment of British farmers polled very positively with the public. “The public want to see British farmers treated fairly. When looking at polls on people’s priorities for trade deals, anything that is perceived as putting British farmers at a disadvantage polls very badly.”
Patrick suggested two core reasons for this, centred on ideas of environmentalism and community. “To buy locally is seen as part of measures to combat climate change, and people would much rather see that, than see farmers being undercut and undersold with foreign markets.
“The second reason can be viewed from a fairness point, that supporting British farmers is a societal good, and that we should be prioritising those in our own communities. Ensuring British farmers are treated fairly is perceived as part of a wider movement towards sustainability.”
Any compromise on the food safety standards as part of international trade deals also proved unpopular. “People don’t want to see food standards cut,” commented Patrick. “There is a worry around wanting food and animal welfare standards to be kept up. Any lowering of these also doesn’t poll well.”
Patrick thinks that while global crises such as the war in Ukraine can place an acute emphasis on issues around national food security, that this will remain a priority in the eyes of the public. “There is this sense that we should support local produce, self-sufficiency and sustainability – that idea’s not going to go away.”
Collective calls for certainty
NFU President Minette Batters welcomed the government’s acknowledgment of food security as a national priority and delivered a strong message that any trade deals struck must be fair to British farmers. She also emphasised the need for a new approach to immigration as well as calls for farmers to receive fair returns in the marketplace.
As questions from the audience began, the overarching message was that farmers need certainty – on issues from seasonal labour shortages right through to the need for the energy support package to extend beyond the quoted six months.
Mark Spencer gave assurances that Defra is engaging with the Home Office in efforts to provide further certainty on the future agricultural workforce. Sir Robert Goodwill also recognised the unprecedented input costs that farmers are facing and gave details of how EFRA is looking into reports on food security and the implementation of ELMs.
A plan built in partnership
Minette ended the session by calling on the government to produce a clear plan for domestic food production, as well as repeated calls for clarity and detail on future schemes for the industry, and mechanisms in place to support and deal with market failure.
“There needs to be an end to the adversarial nature of conversations with government. We have to come together, and work together to form a plan we can build in partnership.”
Back British Farming
Back British Farming Day on 2 November is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate all the great things about our industry and highlight all the great work of our farmers to decision makers.
Chair: Alice Thomson – The Times
Minette Batters – NFU President
Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP – Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Afffairs
Sir Robert Goodwill MP – Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair
Patrick English – Associate Director, YouGov
Columnist and Interviewer, The Times
Alongside Rachel Sylvester, Alice is a presenter of the Times Radio podcast 'Past Imperfect'.
Thomson has written numerous features on farming and is a member of the Policy Committee of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Diversification includes the conversion of a 17th century tithe barn into a wedding and corporate events venue, and horse liveries. Minette co-founded the campaigning initiatives 'Ladies in Beef' and the 'Great British Beef Week'.
Campaigning on behalf of NFU members about the importance of British food and farming has been a key driver for Minette throughout her time at the NFU. In 2020 she led one of the most successful petitions ever, bringing together a coalition of chefs, including Jamie Oliver, farmers, environmentalists, consumer groups and animal welfare experts – resulting in over one million people signing the NFU food standards petition. She has also regularly engaged with different media genres including appearances on Desert Island Discs, Question Time, and Any Questions.
She has been an NFU member from grassroots through to County Chair; she served as Wiltshire’s Council delegate and also as Regional Board Chair for the South West. Minette has also been a member of NFU Governance Board and served as NFU Deputy President for four years from 2014 to 2018, before being elected as president in February 2018. Minette is also an ambassador of Farm Africa and was made a Deputy Lieutenant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 2021.
- Trade and standards
- EU and international relations
- Taxation and fiscal policy
- Science and research and development
- Food supply chain (fair dealing, Markets and Authorities, competition, regulation)
- Food service
- Levelling up
The Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP
Minister of State for Farming, Fisheries and Food (Defra)
Prior to his current position, Spencer had served on the Environmental Audit Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (2013-2016), as well as PPS to then Defra Secretary Liz Truss.
With a farming background, Spencer studied at the Shuttleworth Agricultural College in Bedfordshire, before joining the family farm business.
Sir Robert Goodwill
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair and MP for Scarborough and Whitby
In the 2010 General Election, Robert was re-elected for a second term, increasing his majority from 1,247 to 8,130 achieving a swing of 6.8% from Labour to Conservative. In March 2019 Robert was appointed as a Minister of State at Defra.
Robert has been a farmer of 250 acres of land near Malton since 1979, where his family have farmed since 1850. He has been the managing director of Mowthorpe Ltd since 1995, a company that offers environmentally friendly burials in the North Yorkshire countryside. With his wealth of experience, he was elected Chair of EFRA following the resignation of Neil Parish as an MP on 4 May 2022.
Associate Director, YouGov
Patrick specialises in running academic, experimental design, and election-focused projects and outputs. He holds a Doctorate from the University of Manchester and remains active in contributing to academic research and publications. His academic research focuses on diversity and representation among election candidates, public opinion, and British Elections.