The DEFRA love-in turns sour

After the glamour of the Soil Association conference in Manchester last week, this week I’m at the NEC in Birmingham for the National Farmers Union’s annual meeting.

With no general election on the immediate horizon, union president Peter Kendall in the hot seat for another year and a DEFRA team widely seen as sympathetic towards farming, I was all prepared for a Caroline Spelman/NFU love-in.

Only it didn’t quite work out like that.

With his sleeves rolled-up to show he really meant business, Peter took to the conference stage and spent a couple of minutes praising Cazza and her team’s efforts to cut agricultural red tape, tackle bovine TB and protect research and development from budgets cuts.

Peter Kendall

But like a cat playing with a mouse before chomping its head off, Peter swiftly launched into attack over DEFRA’s lack of direction and it’s failure to have a proper plan for the future of food production in the UK.

Rising grain costs, low meat and milk prices, CAP reform and the country’s increasing reliance on food imports meant agriculture was facing huge challenges which needed urgent and immediate action, he said.

Cazza got up and tried to ease the tension, pleading the ‘I’m one of you’ line by mentioning her NFU credentials no less than three times. NFU credentials, I might add, that reach back to the year I was born.

Like a school girl who’d had a telling off, she attempted to coyly tilt her head and smile her way out of the situation, claiming the government had its head screwed on over farming and had got a food plan in the shape of the Food 2030 strategy.

So that’ll be the same Food 2030 strategy that was written by the Labour government then, Cazza? The same strategy that features your predecessor?

Hilary Benn Food 2030

Oh, and Gordon Brown?

Gordon Brown Food 2030

Something tells me we won’t be seeing any of the current DEFRA lot brandishing a copy of that any time soon.

Cazza may have expected the honeymoon period with the industry to continue for a bit longer, but after nine months in office, farmers are expecting to see some action pretty soon. Let’s just hope her department’s upcoming TB and red tape announcements don’t give them grounds for divorce.

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