First 100 days – what it's like to lead the NFU

05 June 2024

David Exwood, Tom Bradshaw and Rachel Hallos at conferences and on farm

How have your officeholders found their first 100 days of leadership at the NFU? NFU Editor Jo Travis reports.

The first 100 days of any new job can be quite fraught – it’s where you set out your stall and stake your claim and grapple with a new laptop while you’re still trying to find the stationery cupboard.

But the NFU’s officeholder team had little time to collect their thoughts when they were elected following a barn-storming NFU Conference in February this year.

In a rural landscape that was just beginning to count the cost of an appallingly wet winter, President Tom Bradshaw, Deputy President David Exwood and Vice President Rachel Hallos had to hit the ground running.

Member events, ministerial on-farm visits and government roundtables were in their diaries from day one, tackling issues such as flooding, bluetongue and food security. Most of their first month was spent out on the road, but how have they found this period and what are they looking forward to?

Members are ‘the lifeblood’ of the NFU

Tom’s first challenge as President was finding a new farm manager as his handed his notice in after the election.

Finding the balance between NFU, farm and family will always be tricky.

Previously, his diary was set in stone to provide structure, but as President he must react to the issues at a moment’s notice.

“That’s the job – making sure you are where you need to be to cover the topics of the day, which is great and I should say that I am loving it – it’s a huge privilege and I thoroughly enjoy the challenge and the opportunity that I have been given, but that is the biggest change in that you do have to react to the agenda that is going on around you and making sure you are where you need to be,” said Tom

It’s a huge privilege and I thoroughly enjoy the challenge and the opportunity that I have been given.”

NFU President Tom Bradshaw

David added: “I was honoured to be elected as deputy president in February and I am determined to make the most of the huge opportunity that comes with being an officeholder of the NFU.

“It is an organisation that has unparalleled reach and influence and the chance to use that to represent and lead farming is not to be wasted. It is a hugely enjoyable role as well. There are, of course, days where the challenges come thick and fast, but I look forward to the possibility of every day.

“Working with Tom and Rachel as the new team is going really well and will make a real difference to members, the lifeblood of the NFU.”

Food security and national security

Rachel said: “What a rollercoaster ride of briefings, meetings, training, media and relationship building. “One hundred days in and the dust has settled, I’ve found my feet and I am enjoying every minute of it. I’d thought long and hard before putting my head above the parapet and asking for your support as an officeholder. I knew to do the role justice you have to be fully committed and I was right,” she added.

This has not been an easy time to lead the NFU – climate issues, the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine have followed Covid to highlight the shortcomings in our supply chain. 

Tom said: “I think that the fragility of that supply chain has been exposed too often recently. I was in a retailer only last week and it was 7pm and there were so many empty shelves.”

With many politicians now agreeing that national security and food security are inextricably linked, the team is looking forward to see what commitments the political parties sign up to in the coming weeks.

The recent Farm to Fork Summit was a good example of how prominent farming has become.

“There was a lot of media interest and the feeling is growing that food is on the agenda. And now we have a general election, it is going to be interesting to see the different parties’ commitments made in manifestos and if the line ‘food security is national security’ is acted upon,” Tom added.

Getting the voice of farming heard 

With that in mind, the NFU has spent the past two months working with Defra on the Farm Business Investment Loan scheme – government-underwritten loans with subsidised interest rates that would have driven vital investment into the infrastructure that delivers food security for the future.

The team hopes to revisit the plan with the new government after 5 July.

“What we need to do is put the policies in place that deliver food production for the future and investment is absolutely crucial to that. If we can deliver some sort of subsidised government loan scheme that would bring cash into the industry today to overcome some of the challenges of the past nine months then I think that is something that could be a win for everybody and drive investment for the future,” said Tom.

The NFU issued its manifesto for the general election in December and now the team is calling on members to get involved and get the voice of farming heard throughout the campaign.

Stay up to date with our general election coverage:

“On 5 July we will work with whichever government is elected, but I think that this election may well be the most important in a generation. If the next government gets it right then this huge sector can grow, contributing even more to the UK economy, to the health and welfare of Britons and to the environment,” Tom said.

A ‘reset’ moment for farm safety

Conversations about food production systems can only be had against a background of core standards that make sure we don’t offshore food production.

But NFU life is not all about politics.

David said: “My main areas of responsibility are now ELMs/SFI, uplands, tenants, plant health, Natural England, Red Tractor and productivity. These are all big areas of responsibility that have a major impact on how and where we farm.

We have to do better and I am determined to make this a reset moment that brings lasting change.”

NFU Deputy President David Exwood

“We are making progress in all these areas but we have to do more.

“Working with the sector boards it’s vital we have a vision and clear sense of direction of where we want to go that supports productive agriculture while protecting the environment. We have to do both but we must not drop our ambition to grow food.

“Most importantly, I am also responsible for farm safety and mental health. We have all seen the appalling statistics and the lack of progress in a generation in reducing the rate of fatalities and accidents. We have to do better and I am determined to make this a reset moment that brings lasting change,” he added.

First 100 days in photos

I don’t think I will ever cease to be amazed by the respect the NFU holds, nor the doors it can open. The foundations are in place, now we build!

NFU Vice President Rachel Hallos


‘A new rhythm has begun’

As well as pushing the farming agenda in the corridors of power, the officeholders have been developing the executive team into a force to be reckoned with and making sure that members always know who they can turn to. Which means plenty of time on the road, on farms and at regional shows.

“It’s hectic but you only get one crack at it and I have always been told that you are better off regretting something you have done rather than something you haven’t and I am a big believer in taking the opportunities while they are there,” said Tom.

“I think it’s quite bizarre for my children to see daddy on the telly, it’s quite a conversation starter. My wife was saying that the time I met the Prime Minister the people at school thought ‘wow, is your husband important then?’. It is quite surreal but everyone is adapting,” he added.

Rachel is the only member of the team who is serving her first term as an officeholder. “A new rhythm has begun for me and for those back on the farm, this enables me to concentrate on the job. I don’t think I will ever cease to be amazed by the respect the NFU holds, nor the doors it can open. The foundations are in place, now we build!”

David added: “It is a hugely enjoyable role, but I look forward to the possibility of what I can achieve every day. The general election is the next challenge and an opportunity too. The next 100 days will be just as important as the last and will frame the coming years. The whole team will be working hard for you whatever the result.”

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