NFU23: Minette Batters looks ahead to NFU Conference

06 February 2023

Minette Batters

Minette Batters

Former NFU President

An image of Minette Batters, smiling, against a stonewall backdrop

What can you expect from NFU Conference this year? NFU President Minette Batters talks you through who's speaking and the topics we'll be covering in our 'Feeding a Changing World' programme.

Like you, I have heard the word unprecedented countless times over the past few years. However, I can think of no better way to describe the conditions in which British farmers and growers have continued to keep the nation fed.

Think back just 12 months. The government was led by Boris Johnson, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the improbable act of a rogue state, and the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee had just agreed a base rate of 0.5%.

On reflection, perhaps unprecedented significantly underplays 2022.

Feeding the nation against uncertainty

As we continue through 2023, every farm business, and indeed the entire economy, faces significant headwinds. This is the context in which farming must feed the nation.

A root cause remains extraordinary volatility in the energy market, and with that volatility farmers and growers forced into an invidious choice between the risk of producing food or remaining viable by cutting production.

Therefore, during this NFU Conference we must ensure our politicians clearly understand the reality of farming today and what our sector needs to overcome current pressures.

Of course, some may argue that it was Russia’s invasion that triggered the current maelstrom. But that would overlook the failure of Ministers in Westminster and Cardiff to anticipate and intervene when the supply chain is clearly failing farmers and growers.

Day one – timely addresses from government

Our first morning opens with a keynote address from the Farming Minister, Mark Spencer MP who joins us fresh from a number of announcements on Environmental Land Management schemes.

The NFU has always been clear that farmers need clarity to plan long-term so they can run profitable and viable food businesses.

We have continuously called for Defra to ensure that accessibility for all is at the heart of future schemes, too. As farmers look to plan now for the future, the Farming Minister’s address couldn’t come at a more important time.  

Delivering growth in a changing world

The CBI has been a longstanding ally of the NFU. We stand together advocating business-literate policy to government, so it will be great to hear from the CBI’s Director General, Tony Danker in conversation with Deputy President Tom Bradshaw.

It will be interesting to hear how receptive Rishi Sunak’s government is to business, perhaps a contrast to that popularly attributed to Boris Johnson?

Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition takes to the stage after lunch. The coming year will be the calm before the electoral storm of 2024, a time during which Labour will reach out to stakeholders like the NFU to develop its policies for the forthcoming General Election.

As yet, Labour’s policies for farming, the countryside and business are long on intent and short on detail. Sir Keir has the chance to close some of that gap during his address, for example on bTB policy, immigration, trade policy or investment.

In doing so Sir Keir may draw some inspiration from Chatham House’s Professor Tim Benton, who closes our plenary sessions on the first day. We’ve asked Professor Benton to speak on the government’s response to the global food security challenge.

The first day concludes with our traditional commodity breakout sessions. These are important sessions allowing you to meet and question national boards who represent NFU members to the many stakeholders who shape farmers’ future.

What's covered in our commodity sessions?

Question Time: Dairy in a changing world

Markets and margins, where might 2023 take us

Combinable crops
Linking policy to crop health opportunities

Horticulture and potatoes
Securing the future of the UK Horticulture and Potatoes industry: a strategy for stability, investment and growth

Strengthening business resilience in the poultry sector

Sugar Beet- What can Gene Editing do for us?

See our Conference programme

Day two – focusing on resilience

We open on day two by putting business resilience front and centre where we will hear from farming and food chain businesses on the front line. We have asked all to speak to the themes of building business resilience and climate-smart farming – the contention that steps towards net zero are also steps towards good business.

There will be two keynotes from Ash Amirahmadi from Arla Foods, and Assad Malic from Greene King. They are clearly two very different businesses, but both are united in meeting consumer expectations through high integrity supply chains.

When the Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey takes to the stage after the business resilience session, members and delegates will be keen to hear how Defra intends to ensure it builds a future where farmers can thrive and ultimately, how it plans to build fairer supply chains.

Defra is at a crucial point – the stakes could not be higher five years on from Michael Gove’s original Health and Harmony White Paper. Despite tireless co-design, numerous test and trials and pilot launches, for most English farms the ELM schemes remain a promise not an actuality. Yet the government needs widespread participation if it is to realise its statutory environmental targets without compromising our self-sufficiency.

With both the Secretary of State and Farming Minister, as well as the Leader of the Opposition attending NFU Conference, I’m sure like me, you will all listen with intent to see what these key decisionmakers have planned.

Supporting climate-friendly agriculture

After a brief video interlude illustrating the NFU sector boards’ ambitions for climate-friendly farming, the final session is perhaps the most exciting and resonant of conference – to hear from NFU members from across England and Wales – as they explain how they are building resilient businesses in times of great change.

When I look at the line-up in front of us for this year’s event, it’s understandable why NFU Conference is called the biggest event in farming’s calendar, and I am extremely proud of the programme we have organised for you, our members.

Our industry could not have reached a more critical point. This is the time to learn more about political plans and what your NFU is doing to shape the future. This is your chance to put the case forward for the future of food and farming. This is the time for us to stand together.

I would conclude by alerting all conference delegates to take advantage of meeting our key sponsors and exhibitors who are on hand to discuss their business offers in Hall 3.

I wish you well and I hope that you find conference enjoyable and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Minette Batters
President, NFU

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