The first female president of the National Farmers’ Union has told of her desire to stir even greater enthusiasm among the farming community to press home the positive realities of their industry.
Speaking to Country Week during her first round of interviews as president, Minette Batters dismissed any suggestion that her appointment was a watershed moment for the farming industry and instead affirmed her resolve to get on with the job at a pivotal time for UK agriculture.
The Wiltshire beef farmer is the first woman in the NFU’s 110-year history to become its president and asked about how profound a moment her election was for the industry, she said: “I don’t tend to think it’s about that at all.”
“Men and women have both been equally involved in agriculture for generations. We are one of few industries where men and women have been working together.
“Of course mechanisation now has taken a huge amount of strength out of the job so we are seeing more women getting involved.”
Men and women have both been equally involved in agriculture for generations.Minette Batters, the new president of the National Farmers’ Union
Ms Batters will serve a two-year term following the vote which came at the end of the union’s annual conference in Birmingham earlier this week. She succeeds Welsh farmer Meurig Raymond in holding the prestigious top post.
“Obviously I’m delighted to have had the backing of the NFU Council, the support from members across England and Wales. It’s great. But for me it’s about British agriculture and where do we want it to go,” she said.
Ms Batters is a well-known and highly respected figure in the industry, having co-founded the ‘Ladies in Beef’ and ‘Great British Beef Week’ campaigns.
She attended the Great Yorkshire Show for the first time last year, has regularly appeared at Driffield Show to speak to NFU members and was a speaker at November’s Northern Farming Conference where she addressed the uncertainty around Brexit. Future trading arrangements alone will shape the farming landscape for years to come, she told conference delegates in Hexham.
Asked if she hoped her election would encourage more women to pursue a career in, and take a leading role in, British agriculture, Ms Batters said: “We have only got to look at our colleges and universities, they all tell me there are more women getting involved. What I want to see is more men and women getting involved to shape the future, talking to their MPs, getting out there, shouting the positives of what they do. We have got a great story to tell but we have to have that story told.”
In Yorkshire, Askham Bryan College has 1,839 female students studying land-based courses in agriculture, horticulture and animal management, of which 1,064 are based at York.
Catherine Dixon, the college’s chief executive, said: “The appointment of Minette Batters is extremely welcome and demonstrates that women have the drive, ability and commitment to succeed at the highest levels including in industries which have traditionally been seen as being male dominated and male led.
“Our students, both female and male, will benefit from women role models including Ms Batters.”
She said the college was “blazing the trail for women”, with many of its senior roles carried out by women, including the executive director for the college’s agriculture courses, its farm manager in York and the head of its agriculture team.
NFU members greeted Ms Batters’ appointment, as did Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who tweeted: “Huge congratulations to Minette Batters... she takes the helm at an immensely important time and I look forward to working together to shape a future that delivers for our farmers.”
The NFU’s West Yorkshire county chairman Rachel Hallos, who farms in Ripponden, said she was delighted to see Ms Batters take the presidency after four years as deputy president.
“A lot will be made of the fact she is a woman however the fact is she has won over 90 percent of NFU Council’s support shows her ability to be the figurehead and leader of the NFU team as an individual has been recognised,” Ms Hallos said.
“There are and always have been female figureheads within the farming industry and now we have at the top. I hope it encourages others to bring their skills to the table.”
Arable farmer James Bainbridge of Stokesley, the NFU’s county chairman for North Yorkshire and Durham, added: “I think it’s fantastic. She will lead the industry forward.
“Her appointment just shows that farming is going forward and is not stuck in a rut. Male or female, she was the right candidate for the job.”
The NFU Council also voted in Essex farmer Guy Smith as the union’s new deputy president. Mr Smith’s vacated his previous role as vice president, which went to Kent farmer Stuart Roberts.