My verdict? The best president we could have asked for
Peter Kendall is, quite simply, the best president the NFU has had since Henry Plumb, and one of the best in its entire 105-year history.
Intelligent, forceful, highly articulate and bursting with energy and ideas, he has provided both his organisation and the industry with precisely the positive, forward-looking leadership that was needed at a time when the future of both hung in the balance.
It was entirely typical of Peter that he didn't wait for his turn for the presidency to come around, but seized it with both hands, challenging and beating the incumbent, Tim Bennett, in 2006.
It was a brave move. The NFU was at its lowest ebb, having lost many experienced staff in the move from London to Stoneleigh, and was struggling to cope with a dire situation in the industry with a largely new and untried team. Something dramatic was needed to turn the situation round.
Buy one get one free on main course and specials excludes fillet steaks and beef Wellington
Must book to qualify 01209 860332 and present voucher on arrival
Mon- Thur 6-9pm
Contact: 01209 700617
Valid until: Saturday, December 21 2013
Peter provided it. He took the NFU by the scruff of the neck, re-focused it on the basics of productive farming and set out to remind the world of "why farming matters". He was inspiring but exhausting to work for. He gets up every day at some unearthly hour, and sets straight to with his mobile phone and e-mails. When I was his director of communications, he would often ring me with at least six bright ideas before eight in the morning. But his staff loved him.
He could be domineering, sometimes seeming to act as chief executive as well as president, and he never bothered too much about treading on sensitive toes, particularly in the conservation lobby. He is happiest in the seat of a gigantic combine. He has tried hard (sometimes too hard) to connect with the smaller livestock and dairy farmers of the Westcountry, without ever quite succeeding.
He believes in free markets and the appliance of science. He would have given the industry an even clearer sense of purpose had it not been for the two dead weights which have been a drag on his leadership throughout: the CAP and bTB. As it is, his greatest achievement has probably been in restoring a sense of self-confidence to the industry. When he took over, British agriculture was producing a diminishing amount of food as a by-product of countryside management. He will leave not only with the industry's fortunes restored, but with its importance to the economy and the nation's food supplies once again fully recognised.
Given the context in which he had to work, I doubt anyone could have achieved more.