NFU24: Political reaction – views from the farm

21 February 2024

An image of the panel members from the session on stage at NFU Conference.

Learn about what action farmers from across the country want to see from the future government.

As part of the closing session to the political section of Conference, a panel of farmers gave their reactions to what they have heard during the event.

The session was chaired by NFU Cymru President Aled Jones, who introduced the five farmer members from each of the new NFU regions, and Wales.

Long term policies, a restructuring of food subsidisation, and more progress into bridging the gap between research and industry, are just some of the issues covered that the panel would like to see the next government to work on.

NFU24 Philip Maddocks

Philip Maddocks – long-term policies

The political views from the farm were kicked off by Philip Maddocks, who runs PDM Produce, the UK’s second largest wholehead lettuce grower and the UK’s largest grower packer of bagged salads. In 2007, Philip began growing spinach and babyleaf crops and now grows on 4,000 acres of his own and rented land, employing 400 full-time and 400 seasonal staff.

He was scathing about the attitude of recent governments, saying “there has been a complete lack of care for farming”, adding that although the current government was an improvement upon its predecessors, the changes could have come too late.

Philip said the industry needed stable governments with long-term policies, not soundbites. “Really, it should be a cross-party strategy on food and food security so that we’re not going through this rigmarole every five years when coming up to an election, a cross-party strategy that looks out for the next 20 years, not five or one or even months which has been the case for the last few years.”

Philip said the industry provided high-quality food at reasonable prices while caring for the environment – a win-win scenario that would win public respect and their support at the ballot box and beyond.

NFU24 Bridget Christensen

Bridget Christensen – communication is key

Poultry, dairy and arable farmer Bridget Christensen farms in Somerset and supplies broilers to Avara and milk to Sainsbury’s and values good relationships with her processors.

She grows wheat, maize and lucerne to feed to her livestock and she rents part of her land to the Glastonbury Festival and thinks education of staff and children is vital.

Bridget said: “We have so much to shout about, and we do tend to get stuck in doom and gloom when we produce a great product. We need to get better at communicating what we do.”

Bridget said she was concerned that some farmers would be left behind as farming and data collection becomes more computerised.

NFU24 William Maughan

William Maughan – new technology

William Maughan, a third-generation farmer from County Durham with 30,000 free-ranges layers that produce for Noble’s Happy Eggs brand, on 500 acres of mostly tenanted land.

His 200 head of grass and silage-fed cattle are sold to Morrisons, and he grows barley, wheat and oilseed rape. The farm has started to see savings from moving to reduced tillage. William has been voted as Northern Regional Board Chair.

He said he wanted any future governments to tackle stability, sustainability and food security in agriculture and to put food production back on the agenda. He also wanted to see disease protection highlighted after a two-year ‘rollercoaster’ for the egg industry over a costly avian influenza outbreak.

“There is some fantastic work going on in the universities and organisations but there is a disconnect between academia and industry. We need to use this new tech and then we can get more from less – I think we are missing a bit of a trick,” said William.

NFU24 Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas – restructuring subsidisation

Luke Thomas, a third-generation sheep and beef farmer, with 500 half-tenanted half-owned acres in Cornwall, said what he’d like to see from a new government is protection in trade details, particularly with regards to imports, and from disease.

“TB is a big issue in our area, and we need protection and eradication of that disease,” he noted.

Luke also pointed to the need to subsidise food production. “When you bring in subsidies that then incentivise producing less food, you’re undermining the security of producing that food.

“The subsidisation of food production needs to be completely restructured. Nobody wants overproduction, that’s not good for anybody, but I don’t see that being our problem in the near future.”

Elsewhere, Luke said it’s important for farmers to pause and truly register appreciation from the public when it comes their way.

“I take our tractor into the local primary school where my son goes and even something as simple as that, you get such interest from [the children] and they really want to engage.”

NFU24 Delyth Robinson

Delyth Robinson – listen to farmers

Delyth Robinson is a partner in a Pembrokeshire family dairy and beef business. A former NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member, Delyth is a Farmer Time participant and NFU Farmers for Schools Ambassador, as well as the founder of Mootiful Soap Co, a diversification which uses the farm’s own milk.

She made a plea to the Welsh Government to listen to farmers and to work with them on its plans, adding: “Twenty per cent of land is a significant amount of land to be taking out of food production when we have bills to pay and we’ve made investments that need to be paid for.”

She said farms could make advances through productivity and efficiency, but they were also trying to care for the environment, and being made to plant trees in fields that might not be suitable was counter-productive.

Outlining her work on carbon sequestration, which saw the farm sequester as much carbon as 2,500 oak trees, Delyth said that regenerative efforts would become a larger part of the milk price going forward, with the farm already winning contracts based upon their results so far.

Aled concluded that farming was part of the solution and the panel should be proud of what they do and there is a future for agriculture: “They were clapping for the nurses and they will be clapping for farmers.”

Meet the speakers from this session

Philip Maddocks

Owner, PDM Produce

Phil runs PDM Produce, the UK’s second largest wholehead lettuce grower and the UK’s largest grower packer of bagged salads.

He started his business in 1991 with a loan from his father, growing 10 acres of iceberg lettuce. In 2007 Philip began growing spinach and babyleaf crops and producing bagged salads.

Bridget Christensen

Poultry, dairy and arable farmer

Bridget is employed by Steanbow Farms in Somerset, where she looks after health and safety, compliance across all the enterprise (9 million litres of milk, 3.5 million broiler chickens and 1500 acres arable) commercial and domestic tenancies, human resource.

She is also currently NFU Branch chair for Mid-Somerset and Deputy Chair for the Somerset branch.

William Maughan

Arable, beef and poultry farmer

William is the NFU Council delegate for North Riding & Durham, having previously served as the County Chair for 2 years and newly elected Chair of the North Regional Board.

He is a predominantly tenanted farmer on the Raby estate, situated just west of Darlington. The farm consists of around 500 mixed acres, 200 head of cattle, arable and 30,000 free range layers.

Luke Thomas

Sheep and Beef farmer, Treguddick Farm, Cornwall

Luke Thomas, farms in partnership with his parents at Treguddick Farm, Launceston, Cornwall. 

They operate a mixed farming enterprise, consisting of a pedigree South Devon Suckler herd, Pedigree flock of Dorset Sheep, Cereals and Roots over 500 acres. Luke is the 3rd generation on the farm which is a mix of owned and tenanted land.

Delyth Robinson

Dairy farmer

Delyth, a partner in a South West Wales family dairy and beef business, is a Harper Adams graduate with experience in milk and meat processing also ruminant feed. 

She is also a former NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member. Currently, Delyth is a Farmer Time participant and NFU Farmers for Schools Ambassador, as well as the founder of Mootiful Soap Co.

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