NFU elects first female president

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Media captionMinette Batters says the UK must not 'open the flood gates' to cheap food from other parts of the world

The first female president of the National Farmers Union has warned against "crashing out" of the EU without a deal.

Minette Batters, a beef farmer from Wiltshire, is the first woman to lead the NFU in its 110-year history.

She told the BBC that she saw "potential" after Brexit, but World Trade Organisation rules would be bad for farmers and consumers.

Ms Batters takes over from Meurig Raymond, who held the post since 2014.

She had just one opponent, Essex farmer Guy Smith, who will become her deputy.

The NFU, which represents more than 50,000 farmers and growers in England and Wales, announced the result at its annual meeting in Birmingham.

EU relationship 'vital'

The union backed Remain in the 2016 referendum, but Ms Batters said she was keen to look to the future.

"We feel very strongly now, after doing our research into what World Trade Organisation rules [or a 'no deal'] would mean, that we need to look forward and find solutions," she said.

"Crashing out would not be good for farming so it is vital we agree our relationship with the EU."

And she believes it is not just the farming industry that needs that certainty.

"It is important for consumers too," she said. "When buying anything, we don't want to see those taxes go up. It would have a negative impact for consumers."

She also emphasised the importance of not "opening the flood gates" to cheap food with lower standards, as she said the NFU had the ambition to maintain or potentially raise them.

Image copyright NFU
Image caption Minette Batters says she never planned to be NFU president

Ms Batters also said it was up to the farming community to prove its worth - especially if it wants the UK taxpayer to continue subsidies given to them by the EU when they come to an end.

"We have talked about getting the public out to the farm, but I think we need to take the countryside to the town," she said.

"In the next few years we must make the case of why British farms and foods deliver.

"We can't expect to be given handouts as they are or, as Theresa May would say, given to the privileged few. We must make our case."

Support from Gove

Ms Batters was pleased to see the Environment Secretary Michael Gove address the NFU's conference earlier in the week and seemed hopeful about what the minister could do to support the industry.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael Gove spoke to the NFU conference on Tuesday

"He is a big hitting politician and is very capable," she said.

"We have much hope for the plans he offered around the environment and hope he does the same for farming."

She said most politicians from all sides of the political spectrum would acknowledge they have not been as involved with farming since joining the EU, but she hopes they will now take a strong interest in the future of the industry.

Farming heritage

Ms Batters was brought up on a farm, but did not stand to inherit the tenancy for the land from her father.

However, in 1998 she managed to convince the landlords that, in exchange for renovating two derelict cottages in the farmyard, she could take on the farm buildings and 300 acres.

Starting with just 20 Simmental cross suckler cows, the business has grown to a herd of over 300 pedigree Hereford cattle, a small flock of pedigree sheep, fields and a converted Tythe barn wedding venue.

She also runs a catering business specialising in home grown produce, and employs two full-time and up to 20 part-time staff

Union career

Ms Batters also followed in her father's footsteps by being a lifetime member of the NFU, but got involved locally after a colleague convinced her to run for the position as county chairwoman for Wiltshire.

She then served as Wiltshire's council delegate and also as regional board chairwoman for the South West, as well as being a member of NFU Governance Board and the agricultural representative on the SW Environment Agency Flood and Coastal Committee.

Image copyright NFU

She is now determined to get rid of the NFU's reputation as a male-dominated organisation.

"That really is a very out of date opinion," she said. "We have very mixed and diverse staff and colleagues.

"There are a lot of women working in the organisation, from plant and animal health through to planning and broadband, and we cover every aspect."

Along with her NFU work, she has co-founded campaigns such as Ladies in Beef and the Great British Beef Week, and supported others, like Love British Food.

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