A possible hairy situation for the NFU

Dear oh dear. I can’t image the NFU team are a bunch of happy bunnies at the moment.

Having given DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman a telling off this week for not taking farming seriously enough, this morning it’s emerged government plans for a badger cull to tackle bovine TB are being delayed.

Badger

The setback until May is supposedly so the DEFRA team can make doubly-sure the plans would stand up to any legal challenges (though it would handily coincide with the end of the local elections). But the delay means this year’s culling window will probably be missed, pushing a possible badger-cull programme back to spring 2012.

To potentially add to the DEFRA woes, Cazza Spelman’s decision to backtrack on plans to sell off England’s woodlands after Middle England threw its toys out of its pram means the department will lose out on about £80m it had expected to pocket from the scheme.

While nothing has been announced yet, there’s already chatter amongst government mandarins over where DEFRA will look to to fill the budget hole. NFU president Peter Kendall must be glad he really gave Cazza a good talking to over the importance of agricultural expenditure on Tuesday.

But while things are looking dodgy for the NFU on the DEFRA front, things are looking even worse on its own doorstep

Gwyn Jones NFU

It turns out that Gwyn Jones, the union’s vice president, is facing criminal charges over claims he used an unlicensed labour provider to employ migrant farm workers.

Whether Gwyn will feel he’s able to stick it out in the position while he’s going through a legal battle remains to be seen.

The situation throws up some real conundrums for the union. I spoke to several farmers at the conference this week who were concerned about the future of the NFU’s senior team.

With no obvious high-fliers coming up through the ranks, who is most likely to take over from Peter when his current term comes to an end?

Gwyn was named as a potential candidate, but if things go wrong there the NFU faces going into one of the most important periods of its history – CAP reform, badger culls, agriculture spending cuts and so on – without the kind of statesman it needs.

So does that mean Peter’s going to have no choice but to hang around a bit longer? Would he even get the necessary 75% of votes he’d need to keep the top spot?

Most importantly, is Mrs Kendall going to let him stand again? Something tells me he’s going to have some buttering-up to do…

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