Gill's vision: shorter chain with partnership not confrontation Exclusive Clive Beddall The NFU unveiled its new survival strategy for UK agriculture on Thursday ­ and then appealed for help in "weeding out" unnecessary links in the UK food chain. President Ben Gill said in London: "There are too many people in the chain who are not adding value. They are there simply because they have always been there and we have to weed them out." He told retailers and processors: "A shorter chain would mean we could reduce and justify costs and that must be in all our interests." In advance of the promised independent commission on food and farming in the wake of FMD, Gill was unveiling the NFU's new vision to a widely representative group from across the food chain. The invited audience included representatives from manufacturers, major retailers, the Co-operative Group, caterers, the IGD, FDF, BRC, Food from Britain, the Food Standards Agency, the Home Grown Cereals Authority and representatives of food assurance schemes. The Grocer was the only media representative present. Gill told guests: "Farmers must be given the opportunity to obtain a fair return for their investment, for their work and for their management, and generate sufficient profits to reinvest in their businesses to secure their future in an ever-more competitive climate." But, flanked by senior NFU officials, Gill made it clear that food chain partnerships would be the "order of the day" with an end to confrontational relationships between producers and retailers. He was especially delighted by the recent response from major retailers to the farming sector's supply problems with light lambs in the wake of FMD. He went on: "In the food industry, of which we are the foundation, there have been huge changes. Enterprises have become fewer, larger and more powerful and this has placed significant pressures on the many small businesses that make up our sector. "Farming is in a vicious cycle. Lack of profitability often makes it impossible for farmers to invest in change or to consider wider markets. We need to turn this into a virtuous circle, where profitability and progress can go hand-in-hand." In a series of action points, the NFU document calls for British farmers and growers to remain the preferred supplier to British customers, using stronger branding and identity, while maintaining a strong export base. NFU officials made it clear that they hoped the British Farm Standard mark ­ the little red tractor ­ would become the preferred food standard message from "product packs to menus". The strategy document adds that a major requirement for a profitable farming sector is a competitive food chain without unnecessary costs and charges. Gill also wants more attention to be given to adding value at the production end of the chain. "That means adding value efficiently. It's no good putting £5 worth of added value on to a product if it costs you £4.99 to do it." The union will work with IGD to improve communications along the food chain, as well as developing its NFUnet internet site as a business to business exchange for buyers and sellers up and down the food chain. Following this week's meeting the NFU team will hold detailed strategy sessions with individual chain members. - See Opinion, p16. {{NEWS }}