Geoff Pickering: The NFU bangs the drum of big business farming - it does not represent me or my vie
The only surprise in the NFU Council expressing support for remaining in the EU is that the organisation actually managed to have a view. Perhaps the fact that the it loses much of its function without the EU, that it maintains offices in Brussels and has so many staff dependent on the lobbying gravy train emboldened them to take a stand.
When it comes to many local and planning issues the organisation is notorious for remaining neutral. I have more than once had NFU reps say their members were on both sides of the issue so could not take a position. One of the many reasons that among farmers 'NFU' is jocularly referred to as standing for No F...ing Use.
Astonishingly whist overtly endorsing the EU the NFU Council's statement still try to take that well worn position: "The NFU recognises and respects the diversity of views among its membership."
Not only that and despite a stream of pro EU interventions, they insist: "The NFU will not be actively campaigning in the referendum; it will not be joining with any campaign groups and it will not, in any circumstances, advise its members how to vote."
Somewhat disingenuous given the Council's vote is presented and allowed to be reported as an official NFU endorsement.
They go on to blame the Electoral Commission for their duplicity: "It is, however, the case that the Electoral Commission rules governing the referendum in effect mean that the NFU will be required to register to enable it to continue to carry out its essential role of informing members of the issues as they affect farmers."
So there you have it, a deception worthy of the EU itself - they are not neutral and will be effectively telling their members how to vote.
At least they tell us NFU Council's Pro EU resolve is not the actual view of their members If it is not then how can it possibly claim to represents the views of our entire industry?
When it comes to membership we see and even greater deception. The NFU states on its website that it represent more than 70% of farmers.
The NFU has 55,000 members across England and Wales.
There are around 83,000 farm holdings which are greater than 50 acres of land. These belong to full time farmers. Many farmers have more than one holding.
The NFU estimates that more than 70 per cent of full time farmers are NFU members."
That's quite an achievement for an organisation thought to be of little use.
However closer inspection of the figures shows a manipulation worthy of the Remain Campaign.
For a start, the NFU only operates in England and Wales, the rest of the UK is covered by independent sister organisations.
According to the latest (2014) government statistics there are 135.600 holdings in England and Wales. The NFU cynically disregards 54,000 holdings. Their adjusted membership is only 41%.
The NFU openly acknowledge that they represent the biggest holdings.
As Single Farm Payment is based on the amount of eligible land controlled, we begin to see the correlation between NFU membership and those receiving the largest payouts. Not surprising then that the issues on which the NFU lobby the EU do most often represent the position of the big business 'factory' element of the industry.
When we consider their inflated membership claims in relation to the whole UK industry we see just how unrepresentative the NFU council actually is.
There are in fact some 212,000 UK holdings. NFU membership is only the 26% of these.
The truly astounding misrepresentation is that the NFU claim the number of holdings to be the number of farmers. The NFU’s membership is only 19% of the 294,000 registered commercial British farmers and a mere 11% of the recorded 476,000 farming workforce.
A far cry from the "more than 70% of farmers".
Any claim that the NFU council’s resolution represents British farmers is a gross and deliberate misrepresentation. That is even if we are generous and accept that every member is a card carrying union activist. Of the minority of farmers who are members many are not active or have no interest in the organisation's political manoeuvring.
I was once a member but did not join for the NFU to represent me, my industry or to speak or act on my behalf. I joined for one reason and one reason only. The fee was much less than the discount being a member entitled me to on the specialist NFU Mutual insurance. The NFU Mutual has a good reputation and a virtual monopoly on farm insurance so a significant number of farmers are is the same position. I suspect that many of the NFU's members are simply insurance customers rather than wanting anything to do with the Union. The NFU do not publish how many take up the discount, nor do they state how many members are active in their branches, but it will be nowhere near the 55,000.
What is certain is the NFU is not anywhere close to representing the two thirds of farmers it implies – less than fifth at best and of that small number even the NFU recognises many support Brexit.
The NFU bangs the drum of big business farming, the biggest farms who export to the EU and receive the most subsidy. It lobbies the EU in the interests of factory farming, often against the interest the environment, the public and the small family farms and agricultural workers it so readily disregards.
I am one of the huge 240,000 majority of British farmers who are not NFU members and like many of the 55,000 who actually are, the NFU does not represent me or my views on the EU.