FARMERS will welcome the NFU’s first woman president as a breath of fresh air but she will have to work to keep farming at the forefront of the Brexit debate, Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has warned.

Wiltshire livestock farmer Minette Batters was elected on Wednesday as the first woman to lead the NFU in its 110-year history.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, who represents Bridgwater and West Somerset, said farmers he had spoken to were optimistic she could inject some much-needed dynamism into the union’s activities.

“The NFU has become a bit of a dinosaur in recent years and has certainly slipped into obscurity in the minds of the large majority of the public,” he said.

“If you asked a sample of 100 people who they believed represents British farming, I doubt more than a handful would be able to provide any kind of answer.

“One thing Minette Batters must work hard to do is to raise the profile of British farming and its achievements. But more importantly she needs to make sure farming’s interests are not sidelined as we transit through the Brexit process.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger said he is delighted Defra Secretary Michael Gove was already committing the Government to continuing subsidies – particularly for upland farmers – once the UK was out of Europe and was stressing the importance of high animal welfare standards.

“Michael has clearly grasped the fact that if subsidies are to be removed it will have to be done gradually to avoid widespread business failures, and that hill farming represents the most cost-effective way of conserving our most important landscapes,” he said.

“I am particularly glad he appreciates farming’s importance in underpinning our £110 billion agri-food sector, and the fact that that sector employs more people than the motor industry and aerospace combined.

“But not all politicians share such an appreciation – and that is where I see a crucial role for Ms Batters to play. She needs to stress the fact that we must continue to support British food production, not merely in the interests of feeding people well but in order to reduce the volumes of food we unnecessarily import at the moment.

“Politicians and the public are pretty much united in their desire to see the highest possible animal welfare standards applying to meat production: the only way we can guarantee that is by producing meat within the UK rather than importing it from countries where experience has shown far lower standards are often observed.”