How NFU’s Minette Batters is leading farming fightback – Sarah Todd

LOBBYING has been in the news. Never mind furtive texts or emails, the chairman of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) this week delivered a masterclass in how to bend a politician’s ear – in person.

Boris Johnson during a farm visit to Derbyshire where he met NFU chairman Minette Batters.

Minette Batters, who incidentally should become a Dame for services to agriculture, was this week pictured talking to the Prime Minister.

It’s fair to say from the footage of the meeting at a livestock farm in Derbyshire that the president of the farmers’ union barely paused for breath.

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There was a time when, in this correspondent’s opinion, the NFU was a bit wishy-washy and didn’t seem to step up to the plate with strong opinions.

With Ms Batters at the helm more people than ever before must have realised that this was Great British Beef Week.

It finished yesterday, so the obvious thing for The Yorkshire Post’s readers to do is keep the momentum going with a roast beef Sunday lunch tomorrow.

Batters, a tenant farmer in her own right from Wiltshire, fitted in speaking to the PM about new trade deals and pushed for the Government to match-fund the current £60m farmer-led investment to drive exports and demonstrate that the UK is serious about food and farming exports.

In addition, she managed to push for the levelling up of rural Britain and “raise my concerns” about the current lack of information available to farmers about the Government’s post-Brexit agricultural transition plan.

Will Boris Johnson start listening to the concerns of farming families?

“I urged the Prime Minister to provide more clarity on his future agricultural policy as soon as possible,” she said. Bet she did.

Such an upfront way of doing business; of lobbying. I’m forever encouraging my children (suppose they’re adults now at 17 and 20) to go and see people, write or at the very least telephone rather than sending mobile phone messages. Just this week The Daughter has been sat with a new pad of Basildon Bond sorting out her summer work experience.

This piece reminds me to tell her to read up about Ms Batters. Anyone who hasn’t heard it would be well advised to look up and belatedly listen to her interview on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

Ms Batters co-founded Ladies in Beef, the movement behind Great British Beef Week.

As an aside it’s no surprise to learn that it was officially launched by another strong and understated woman, Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal.

Ladies in Beef was established to tell the story of British Red Tractor beef. To promote British beef as part of a healthy, nutritious, balanced diet, and the vital role livestock production plays in the management of the countryside.

To sound one note of caution, it’s vitally important that good quality British meat remains affordable. There are some farm shops, high-end food retailers and restaurants where the meat sold is on a different stratosphere pricewise to what the farmer is actually getting. The mark-up, especially since the first lockdown, is beyond a joke.

Supermarkets take some stick; but for the last couple of months this beef farmer’s daughter turned writer has been buying steak from Morrisons. Stamped with the Red Tractor it has had sirloin and rib eye priced at “Two for £6”.

Less money than a McDonald’s quarterpounder (£3.29) or the fast-food giant’s six nuggets (also £3.29).

Rather than having steak on a weekend, this pricing – which I hope has more to do with the late founder Sir Ken Morrison’s farming legacy than pushing down the bottom line for producers – has turned steak into a midweek meal rather than a weekend treat.

Eating good quality British food should be affordable; decent meals shouldn’t be a luxury. Education is obviously important.

To be fair, shares in Morrisons should be forthcoming because pretty much everybody met has been told about these steaks.

A cardboard pizza or basic microwave meal – full of artificial additives – costs more money.

Before the letters flood in, our fridge full of sausages, mince, burgers and pork pies is testament to the joys of a local butcher’s shop. Looking back at the price of six chicken nuggets; that’s the same as many a whole chicken.

For me, supermarket chickens are too cheap. There seems something wrong with a whole bird’s life being worth so little. But mind-boggling how people will pay more for a few nuggets than a chicken they could make a meal of and then have leftovers for sandwiches the next day. Anyway, going off on a bit of a hobby horse.

To finish where we started. Lobbying. Let’s see more of it in the upfront style of Minette Batters. Some say lobbying is the second-oldest profession and there’s certainly nothing new about it.

However, this week’s pictures of Ms Batters chatting out in the fresh air with Boris Johnson are a million miles away from others in the news.

The images of former government adviser Dominic Cummings slouched over his mobile phone or the schmoozing shots of former Prime Minister David Cameron are certainly more murky Thames compared to the NFU’s country meadow.

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.

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