Whoever the new President of the NFU may be, one of his biggest and most immediate challenges will be to shore up public support for farming, at a time when it is beginning to show signs of crumbling away.
As a former Communications Director for the NFU, I should make it clear straightaway that that is not intended as a criticism of the excellent team of people currently in charge. The threat is external, and it arises from a combination of circumstances, any one of which could do serious damage to the good name of farming. Together, they look alarmingly toxic.
I suppose we must put the badger cull at the top of the list. Whilst the rural communities of the South-West have mostly accepted the arguments for it and shrugged off the operational shortcomings, I fear it must look very different from further away.
Owen Paterson's fatuous remark about the badgers moving the goalposts has done for public perceptions of the cull what John Gummer stuffing his daughter Cordelia's face with a beef burger did for perceptions of the safety of British beef during the BSE crisis. Coupled with the failure to achieve its targets, the cull is now widely seen as a fiasco, in which farmers are complicit.
To make matters worse, the NFU is now faced with a range of cattle-related controls which will be costly, disruptive and onerous. Yet if they campaign too stridently against them, they'll give ammunition to those who are already saying – not least in the letters column of this newspaper – that farmers are only interested in killing badgers, and aren't prepared to shoulder their own share of responsibility for curbing cattle to cattle spread.
With renewable energy, the position is reversed. The urban public don't really care about wind turbines, solar parks and anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. But amongst the people who have to live alongside these essentially industrialised interlopers in our precious countryside, they are hugely controversial. I note that at last Friday's debate on renewable energy at Mount Edgcumbe House, Stephen Gilbert MP suggested that perhaps the NFU should take the lead in encouraging farmers to use green energy (whilst he and his MP colleagues keep their heads firmly below the parapet, no doubt).
Whatever the empirical rights and wrongs of renewable energy, the massive subsidies associated with it have given it the stink of a gigantic scam, tainting everything associated with it, farmers and landowners included.
I could go on – to the row over how CAP reform and modulation, and farmers effectively telling the conservation lobby "keep your hands off OUR money", when it is actually being provided by hard-pressed taxpayers. Or the prospect of even bigger and faster tractors leaving even more mud on the roads at maize harvesting time (often to feed the AD plants), whilst using cheap diesel and not needing to have an MOT.
None of this is, to put it mildly, 'good PR'. I haven't seen a figure for farmers' favourability rating for some time, which rather suggests it has been slipping. Does that matter? Well, yes it does. Whilst it is less important to be popular if farming is doing reasonably well, farmers still need the public on their side as consumers, as voters and as local influencers to secure their markets, underpin their political campaigns and resist further controls and red tape.
Telling people to "Back British Farming" may play well with the farming community. Accentuating the positive, by putting the emphasis firmly on what "Farming Delivers for Britain" is much more likely to impress the public.