The National Farmers’ Union has appointed a new head of food and farming.
Philip Hambling will be taking up the position in mid-April.
Changes at the NFU
Hambling will have the tough task of joining the NFU in what is seen as a critical time, with plenty of changes ahead. The union is negotiating choppy waters following the Brexit vote and the affect that this has had on trade, as well as trying to create sustainable recovery in depressed markets. He will be responsible for the food chain and commodity sectors of the union.
“The NFU has a hugely important and influential role to play in the development of agriculture and food chains at this time of significant challenge and potential opportunity for UK producers,” Hambling said. “I particularly look forward to working with the NFU’s commodity boards, offering my experience of working in government, as well as with policy-makers inside and outside commercial value chains, to help us shape and capture the best of those opportunities for UK farmers and growers.”
Hambling is currently the senior agriculture manager at Sainsbury’s, so he is certainly in a position to understand the industry and to make changes on both sides of the fence. His previous experience has included working at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs or DEFRA, being food policy manager for the British Meat Processors’ Association, and being group agriculture and procurement manager at Randall Parker Foods.
Phil Bicknell was the previous incumbent in the NFU position of head of food and farming. He left the NFU in December 2016, deciding to join the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, or AHDB. There are plenty of opportunities for food recruitment in these governing bodies and organisations, which offer the chance of career advancement for those looking to reach higher levels of the food and drink industry.
There are certainly challenges ahead for farming associations in the UK, and on a big scale. The most pressing is the issue of Brexit, with both workers and customers under threat. The worry is that exports will go down thanks to the increased conversion rate against the pound, and that many European companies may pull out of business deals with UK suppliers because of the changing marketplace laws.
It is also an area of some concern that European workers may return to their own countries, thus decreasing the available workforce in the UK. This will create more job opportunities in fresh produce for UK job seekers, but on the other hand may cause a shortage of workers as British employees focus on the less menial jobs.
If there are less workers on the fields, it could mean a reduced crop for British growers, which will impact the economy as well as forcing UK supermarkets and other retailers to look for suppliers overseas. Overall, it could be very damaging for the UK agriculture market if things are not handled correctly.
The task facing Hambling and his ilk is to manage the departure from the EU as skilfully as possible, ensuring that the workforce is maintained and that retailers have enough of an incentive to stay with British suppliers – without losing profits, where possible. It is going to be a tough task, and certainly not something to be envied at all.
Beyond that, there are still the usual concerns to grapple with. Adverse weather conditions are always threatening to make one crop or another a difficult harvest, with the current shortage of spinach and cucumbers thanks to a wet Spain being a key example. The decreasing prices of retailers are also putting pressure on farmers.