Truss or Sunak? What the farmers think

Photo by Giuseppe Milo

We rarely publish unsolicited press releases but this is an important insight into the challenges farmers face.

Truss or Sunak? When it comes to food, farming and the environment –
what should be the top policy priority for the next PM?

The race to become the UK’s next Prime Minister is almost over. As the two candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss battle it out in the final stages, we were curious to know what farmers and growers think. We did a quick whip-round of views at Just Farmers and thought you might be interested to read the responses we received.

They contain diverse individual perspectives and pose some interesting challenges for the next
Government, which may help inform your questions on agricultural and environmental issues
going forward.

Despite Liz Truss leading in the polls, we were surprised to see almost total support for Rishi Sunak –
with some farmers stating they are a firm ‘neither’. There is a strong sense of despondency and most of the farmers (across the political spectrum) share grave concerns for the future of British farming, and our environment.

Please note this is a very informal vox pop of just 72 farmers and growers around the UK, and not
everyone replied. We have no political or industry agenda, or bias, at Just Farmers. We simply share
individual voices and views from the grassroots, to bring you some human context and colour. The
farmers are happy to be quoted and/or interviewed.

The Conservative Party member ballot closes at 5pm on Friday (September 2) and the winner will be
announced on Monday (September 5).

Peter Gantlett, dairy (organic), Wiltshire

“I will get to vote, and I haven’t decided. I have attended hustings, virtual and in
person, and watched them on TV. They both say some sensible things, and both say
some stupid things. They are both playing to their “electorate”, which at the
Cheltenham hustings were rural people who don’t like solar farms. ‘Fields should
grow food not solar panels’ got a cheer. Whoever wins, farming and the environment, even with climate change, are not going to be a priority. The priority will be energy, and as that is critical to food production, probably the right priority. I am inclining towards Rishi, as a safer pair of hands, but part of me feels this country needs a good shaking and, if Liz wins, fasten your seat belts, because we are all in for one heck of a ride!”

Jack Pearce, horticulture (conventional), Norfolk

“For me Sunak is the one with the economic mind to steer us through this quagmire. That’s just based on his acumen rather than his ideologies. Truss is like the girl on Love Island who, in the first week, couples up with the safe guy with an eye on winning at the end. In my mind, all she wants is to be Prime Minister, a bit like Boris, and will just say whatever gets her there.

Sadly, the people making the decision are the Conservative membership which is a broad and diverse group. I would rather the viewers of Love Island chose the next PM! What we are going through is crippling our business, and we are seriously
looking at whether it is viable in the future.

Our food system is in crisis and the price rises needed to keep businesses in the game long term isn’t coming down the line. Most of this is external stuff, like the war in Ukraine, which is beyond anyone’s control. Sadly though, as a country, our governments have never looked long term. They jump onto the populist bandwagon. As such, we have a country falling apart at the first real shocks we have seen for

Katie Allen, sheep and beef, Gloucestershire

“There are many issues facing our society at the moment; the cost of living crisis and the continuing fall-out from Covid and Brexit. However, for me, the most significant and pressing issue of our time is how we live on this planet whilst protecting the ecosystem and repairing the damage already done. I think if we resolve the issues which underpin our environmental crisis, we can build a stronger, healthier society.
Unfortunately, I don’t have confidence in any our political leaders to take the steps needed to make the significant systematic changes required to achieve this. They are too driven by economic growth. I’m not interested in watching a popularity contest – I want a leader that can be brave, go against the grain and
earn the respect of a valuable team. I don’t feel this describes any of our leaders or MPs, let alone the Tory leadership candidates.”

Robert Lasseter, pigs and arable, Dorset
“Sunak. He’s more principled and has a better intellect. Better option still: a change of government. This lot have left me embarrassed to be British.
Priorities: Improve food security and ensure markets are contractually fair and that
supply chains work. They are broken in the pig industry.”

George Young, agroecological (mixed), Essex

“I think the way the leadership race is being run is absurd and makes the Tories look a joke. As a traditional Tory voter, it makes me question my vote, not that Labour know what they are doing, and I wonder if I should look to alternative parties going forward.

For me there is no question between Truss and Sunak. Truss seems far too
populist. I believe she will just put the country into a worse position. Sunak is one of the few politicians I would trust financially. And for me that must be the focus.
Ultimately, the environment is going to be forgotten, which is a massive shame and will be seen by future generations as stupidity. But in terms of civil unrest, food is more critical. If the Government don’t get behind food production soon, there will be big issues. Unfortunately, they still seem to think they will be able to import food for food security. But I think that is a very precipitous assumption to make.”

Ben Andrews, horticulture (organic), Herefordshire

“In my view, Truss has backpedalled on pretty much everything she has ever stood for.
Rishi is exceptionally intelligent but so out of touch with the people who are really
feeling the squeeze – which is rapidly becoming the middle class, not just those on
benefits. Ultimately, though, I don’t mind which gets in. They’re both dreadful and I
hope that the Tories will be ousted at the next election.”

William Barber, poultry (indoor broilers), Norfolk

“Personally, I am a Rishi supporter as I cannot believe the money tree can go on
producing at the rate Liz Truss thinks it can. I feel we are going to have to pay for all
the spending sooner rather than later because we cannot just leave it to the next
generation to sort out.
I wasn’t overly impressed by Liz Truss when she was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2014 – 2016), and felt she treated it merely as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, which in fairness to her seems to have worked out. Neither candidate seems to have paid more than lip service to the environment. I know that Liz Truss has said that she will get rid of green levies on energy, but they weren’t exactly green – simply another tax.

My main concern was the alacrity she showed in doing trade deals that hurt farming, which she must have known, simply to show she could get a deal. I don’t trust her not to throw our industry under the bus when it suits her politically.”

Ruth Grice, dairy, Leicestershire

“Liz Truss failed to attend last week’s NFU hustings and put our sector to the bottom of the list when it came to developing trade deals with other countries. It feels like her main priority has been to get trade deals across the line, to prove that Brexit is working, as opposed to standing up for UK business sectors. As for letting the Australia trade deal pass without Parliamentary debate – how is that right, in terms of ethics and democracy?

Sunak – marginally better. He turned up to the NFU hustings and he
represents a rural constituency, both of which should be positive signals for the farming sector.
Top policy priorities? Supporting farmers through the transition period – especially smaller, family farms, disease control in farmed animals, ensure that the UK farming community can compete on a level playing field in a global context.”

Robert Graham, arable (conventional), Essex

“On balance, I would give Sunak a chance, simply because we know less about him.
Maybe he is capable of rational thought, and I certainly would give him some credit
for (eventually) helping to oust the Prime Minister. Truss, on the other hand, is given
credit for intelligence and work ethic, but to what end? Her time at DEFRA was a
disaster, not just for agriculture but also because she oversaw cost cutting which has resulted in the current crisis in increased release of raw sewage into our waterways and the sea.

With regard to farming, at least Sunak agreed to speak with the NFU. I think that the fact that Truss could not make the time to do so shows her lack of interest in agriculture, which again seems quite blinkered in the current world crisis. Whoever wins, food security has to become a priority, and the Tory obsession with trade has to be reined in. Liz Truss as Prime Minister fills me with dread, so by default I would prefer Sunak.”

Josh Heyneke, poultry (organic), sheep and horticulture, Carmathanshire

“I definitely think Rishi has the best ideas for the economy and he comes across as a genuine person. Short term we have to sort out farm subsidies with more clarity and clear direction for farmers. Long term I would like to see the government investing in the next generation of farmers. More council farms that offer tenancies, with start-up funding and training for young farmers.”

Charles Goadby, dairy (housed), Warwickshire
“Sunak. He’s been willing to engage with farmers. I was at his meeting at the NFU on 19th July. Truss only agreed to a remote meeting after being almost forced into it, and then it’s only remote and timed when it’s too late to have any impact!
Sunak aims to have minimum self-sufficiency targets, supports the badger cull and
using hindsight, wants future trade deals to be focused on quality not quantity. Truss, however, has sold us down the river, and while we want to make improvements to food and farming, leading by example, deregulation is not is what is needed, simplify it by all means but do it with caution.

Whoever gets in, work with farmers and focus on food. Maintain quality. ‘Cheap’ will now be expensive in the long term. Remember the words of Henry Kissinger – “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.”

Flavian Obiero, pigs, East Sussex
“Truss or Sunak? I genuinely think it’s a choice between bad and worse.”