meurig raymond nfu

Meurig Raymond

Farming conferences are rarely upbeat, but this year’s NFU conference will go down in memory as a particularly gloomy affair.

In his speech, NFU president Meurig Raymond reeled off a tale of woes faced by farmers over the past 12 months.

This ranged from plunging commodity prices, delays to farm subsidy payments and the effects of the recent floods, to supermarkets pushing prices down and cancelling contracts at short notice, not to mention the uncertainty surrounding a potential Brexit, and the effects of the national living wage.

Many of his complaints were familiar: some retailers were selling carrots cheaper than cans of Coke at Christmas – a new variation on the otherwise well-rehearsed ‘milk is cheaper than water’ line.

Raymond also called again for an extension to the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s remit throughout the entire food supply chain (a request that will doubtless send shivers down Christine Tacon’s spine – she spent an entire session in front of Efra explaining why that wasn’t a realistic request).

Environment secretary Liz Truss tried hard to be more upbeat in her speech, but once again resorted to familiar themes. She rattled through the achievements of Defra in securing new export markets for British food, before reiterating the Prime Minister’s position on the benefits of staying in the EU.

All well-intentioned sentiments, but – as with Raymond’s speech – the overriding impression is of a farming sector stuck on repeat – rehearsing the same old troubles and complaints over and over again with little sign of a long-term solution to pull farmers out of their malaise. And with the starting gun on a referendum campaign now having been fired, farmers have little hope of seeing decisive action for some time – shame, as that’s what they need more urgently than ever.