NFU conference under way

Against a background of shouting badger cull protestors and heightened security, the National Farmers Union conference got under way in Birmingham this morning.

Peter Kendall, president of the NFU, told delegates that farming was now starting to get serious attention from policy-makers, but warned that delivery was not matching up the rhetoric across government.

Talking about the grocery adjudicator, he told secretary of state Caroline Spelman: "It's two years since the code was introduced and we still don't have any monitoring and enforcement. In the meantime, I continue to hear of suppliers being squeezed by the supermarkets in a way which, if brought to light, would really shock consumers.”

He said the retailers were all over No 10 arguing that an adjudicator was “anti-business”, and added: "What I say is that not having an adjudicator is anti-business. We urgently need this bill passed into law and allowing the adjudicator to act on evidence submitted by third parties like the NFU."

When it comes to CAP reform, he said, the NFU welcomed forward movement, but expressed concern over measures that could damage farmers competitiveness.

Responding to Kendall, Spelman called for a stronger partnership with farmers, where government was “on your side, not on your back”. She said that government had ducked the issue on bovine TB and a badger cull for too long, but reassured delegates that she was determined to tackle the issue going forward.

When it came to regulation, she said that, in future, farm inspections would be tackled by a risk-based approach, but she added: “We will step up our focus to help farmers who underperform. This new approach is risk-based, common sense and win win. But let me be clear, this is not going to compromise the standards that are needed. We will come down hard on those who do not play by the rules."

On CAP reform, she said changes must be simplified and flexible, and urged the EU commission to not adopt a “one-size-fits-all” policy when it comes to the issue of "greening" the CAP, to improve environmental performance across EU farms.