The NFU has poached BBC Radio 4’s food editor to head up the union’s strategic communications.

Fran Barnes, the radio station’s food, farming and rural affairs editor, will replace Sarah Whitelock, another BBC veteran who left the NFU at the end of last year.

Barnes has worked with the BBC for nearly 20 years, and is currently editor of Farming Today, BBC Radio 4’s early-morning farming and rural affairs programme. In her new role as head of strategic communications, she will report to Martin Haworth, NFU director of policy and communications.

Barnes’s start date has yet to be confirmed, but Haworth said an announcement would be made soon.

He added Barnes had “extensive knowledge of farming, and farming issues” and was already familiar with the NFU through her work at the BBC. “She joins an excellent communications team in Stoneleigh and I very much look forward to working with her,” he added.

Barnes’s appointment comes after a period of upheaval for the NFU’s communications team. Last June, former Coca-Cola Enterprises vice president Erika Coghlan quit as the union’s communications director after just six months in the role. Former comms director Liz Falkingham left her post with the NFU in 2010 after two years, and was succeeded by the union’s former head of government affairs, Terry Jones, who subsequently headed for the exits when Coghlan joined to become director of communications at the Food & Drink Federation.

Barnes is the second senior farming editor to announce a departure from the BBC in recent weeks. The Corporation’s head of rural affairs, Andrew Thorman, will leave in April after 35 years with the broadcaster.