BBC Science Music, Radio podcasts Hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the Desert Island Discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were castaway to a desert island. And for right reasons, the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening.
My castaway this week is the president of the National Farmers Union, Minett Battis, 70 percent of British land is agricultural. Yet many of us feel estranged from the people who feed us, representing them and articulating the challenges they face, which currently include covid-19 Brexit and the effects of climate change is her job. She's the first woman to lead the NFU and when she's not tending to its 47000 members, she's running her own farm in a wheelchair. She grew up as the daughter of a tenant farmer who did everything he could to discourage her from following in his footsteps.
It didn't work. She put aside a successful career in catering to return to the land more than 20 years ago and has no regrets. She says. Sometimes in life you find you really want to do something and everybody you know and respect tells you not to.
But as welcome to Desert Island Discs. Thank you so much. So now that you've been running your farm for just over 20 years, how much has it changed since you took over?
I'd always wanted to farm and never thought it would happen. And I I started farming with really a very derelict farm with 15 suckler cows to my name, not a fence on the place, no buildings, no nothing. And all my friends saying, you're mad, don't do this.
And the business now is so different. We're very diversified. We have a wedding business. I have upwards of 300 had a stock on farm at any one time. We have a pedigree herd of Aberdeen, Angus and pedigree herd of Herefords.
My focus has always been on leaving the farm and about a state, and that's what every farmer's focus is. You know, how can we improve it? How can we focus on our soils, on our grasslands? And that has been my ambition.
What about the impact of covid-19 on farmers? What have they been telling you?
covid-19 was a story of two halves, really. You know, we were the key workers. Our job was to feed the nation. And as farmers, we really rose to that challenge. You know, we weren't the heroes in the NHS, but we were the key workers. And feeding this country was such a monumental challenge, such an important job. And, you know, I had messages coming out of government at one stage in the beginning where ministers were terrified that there were empty shelves.
Were we going to be able to keep food supplies going?
And for farmers that were selling into retail, which is, you know, Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury's or co-ops for farmers that were selling in there, that's where all the sales were going. But for all of us and hour out of home heating, our cost of coffees, you know, we don't at home have those things. You know, we tend to have a nice cafe with a splash of milk. So for those farmers, dairy farmers supplying the out-of-home market, supplying the likes of Costa, they lost their market overnight.
They couldn't follow their cows. They couldn't follow their workers. They were dealing with the perishable product. We saw growers supplying garden centres. You know that only sale times are Easter. Ah, Mother's Day are the Maybank holidays. Those markets were lost. So those growers, you know, perishable product to gain massive, massive losses.
What actually was selling? What was moving and did anything surprise you about that?
Well, the interesting thing is what we buy out of retail and what we eat out of home are different. So what we saw with beef, for example, was everybody only wanting to buy mince.
Mince was flying off the shelves and you had chillers across the country that were just building up and up and up with steaks and joint. So we worked very closely with all the retailers to drive these massive promotions saying, you know, have a steak night, have a treat night and try and live at home as if you were when you were going out. Been quite a year for you.
But of course, you're here to share your music with us as well. Tell us about your first track today. Why have you chosen this and what are we going to hear?
This is, I guess, the legendary Tom Jones. What an amazing man he is. And this is green green grass of home. And the song is about somebody who's on death row. But there is a particular line in it where he realises that this has been a dream.
He's dreaming about the green green grass of home and he wakes up and he's surrounded by four grey walls.
Now, for me, I'm travelling a lot. I'm abroad a lot. And I wake up sometimes in a hotel thinking that I'm at home and realising that I'm not and very occasionally thinking, which country am I in? So that line is very apt.
And just the green green grass of home that really reminds me of my home.
Then I wake up and look around me. Four gray walls surround me. And I realize, yes, I was only dreaming. A shadow bordering on and on, we will walk at daybreak again. I agree with Tom Jones and the green green grass of home so many.
But as you're the first woman to hold the post of president of the National Farmers Union, you were elected for another two year term this year. And among other things, you're going to be dealing with Brexit, leaving the EU, the recent concerns of the agriculture bill. And then that's without even talking about the effects of the pandemic, concerns about climate change and what an entry you've got.
What are your most urgent priorities at the minute? It is all about, for me, making sure that consumers get access to the high quality food that they want. They really want to see animal welfare, environmental protection, food safety maintained in this country. So we've got to make sure that when we look at future trade deals that we're achieving that effectively, that those imports are produced to the same standards that we have here and we're not importing food that ultimately would be illegal for us to produce here.
That's really important.
Yes. And the agriculture bill on that front has been a cause for concern for many of your members recently. For those who aren't up to speed, where are things at with it now?
And why are some farmers concerned? I mean, I would say this is and should have been called perhaps to bring it to life. What is in your fridge, Bill? The what is on your dinner plate, Bill?
Because ultimately, the agricultural bill will shape what we are eating, what we are buying for our families, what our kids are eating in school, what we're eating in the hospitals, it will shape the whole future of food. So it's been really important to make sure that we get a level of primary legislation that ultimately is going to allow our MPs to represent constituents. And I'm delighted that the government responded to our asks that we needed to have this level of democracy.
We needed to have scrutiny.
And so we will now have a report on every single trade deal, on all aspects of food that parliament will be able to debate and scrutinise and ultimately, you know, will be able to say, no, that is unacceptable. You know, this government made a cast iron commitment to the farmers of this country that they would not undermine them in trade deals. So I'm pleased with what we've achieved with the agricultural bill. But let's not forget, this is about the food that each and every one of us eats.
It's time for your second desk to tell us about this one.
This one is The Proclaimers. We run a wedding venue and I listen to music in normal times every week of the year because we have music blasting out from our Tyvon.
But this track, 500 miles, always makes me smile.
It's just a shout out to all those businesses that are feeling the pain of covid our caterers, the people that run the bar, the people that do the security, they are all out of work at the moment.
They're all suffering. And we haven't had one single wedding in 2020. And that goes across many different farming businesses as well as to the challenges that we've all faced. So this reminds me of the past and the good times, and it reminds me of the times to come when the dance floor will once again be packed with people having the time of their life getting married, celebrating. And I just really look forward to hearing this belting out again, one five.
One thousand miles, I know, going be working hard enough money for the Wildcat to pass almost every penny on to you when The Proclaimers and I'm going to be 500 miles a minute, but hopefully next summer you'll hear that belting out of your Typhon.
So you grew up on the farm that you now run, but you were tenant farmer rather than a landowner. How did your parents get into farming?
For my dad, I think it was really difficult. He was one of three. His brother got left a small farm. His sister got left some money and he got a note saying, best of luck. And so I think that was quite a guiding principle for him.
He had to make his own path. And my mum came from from Oxford. She didn't have a farming background. The rural life was something that she really wanted. They never thought they would farm in their own right, and they did.
But they always told me that that wouldn't happen because they farmed effectively in partnership with my current landlord. So we had no succession tenancy and I again had to make my own path into farming.
And did you feel that connection with the land? I mean, as you say, you know, growing up in a family where you were conscious that this wasn't a place that you were going to inherit, did you help out a lot and kind of fall in love with the place?
We used to do a lot of calf rearing, and I used to do all of that before I went to school and when I came home and I was just passionate about it, no calves got sick on my watch.
And yet he didn't think that women made good farmers. Why not?
He was old school. He just thought that it was too physical. And I think he worried that the farm would not be there for me. And he wanted me to get out and go away and get a different career.
And how much of that do you think was informed with the quite tough, by the sound of it life that he was dealing with and managing?
It was difficult for him. I mean, he'd had to horrendous motorbike accidents. He was very paralysed down one side. Living with somebody with with head injuries is difficult because he was effectively trapped in a body that was not suitable for his temperament. And he and I were very alike, very driven people wanting to get on. And his body didn't allow him to do that.
But he was loved by all our neighbours, by the people around. He was a charming man, but at home he was a taskmaster.
You know, it was it was all about getting up early in the morning, getting the work done.
It was the driven life that's taxable. Music Desk number three. Spring is such an important time of year. We are carving, we are lambing. And Vivaldi's Spring is just about green shoots. It's just about new life coming into the world. It's about hope. It's about optimism, and it's about excitement for the year ahead, no matter what the winter has thrown at us. And Vivaldi's Spring just explodes in your mind when you hear it.
The first movement from Spring Vivaldi's Four Seasons, played by Nigel Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra. So at buses when you were growing up, one of your passions was horses.
Did you ever think about pursuing that as a career?
I really, really did. It was a huge passion in my life indeed. Many of my friends now comment, goodness me, how on earth did you end up doing what you're doing? Because it was it was all about horses and it was we never won on holiday. We didn't have much money growing up. We didn't own the horses. They were often on loan. I was loved racing.
I worked for David Elsworth in my teenage years. I read out for him. And in his heyday, you know, he was leading national trainer, fourth leading flat trainer one year and leading national trainer. So I got the chance to ride for him on the flat. I rode a good word and I rode at Saulsberry and I also ride over fences as well and I ride 30 winners and all so well, how it feels like a past life.
It was a past life. I was very young then, but I look back on it as it was such an opportunity at that time.
Why did you stop my dad again was and he was right. You cannot make a career out of being a professional horse rider. To be a professional, you've got to be really, really top class. And I was good, but I wasn't really, really good. And he was adamant that you got to get out, you got to get a career.
And that is why I actually went to catering college. I got a Cordon Bleu distinction. And that was a passion very much driven by my mother, who is a brilliant cook. And that was what drove that sort of second part of my career. Horses never disappeared. They remained a key part of my life, but not on that basis.
We've got to make time for some music. It's your fourth disc.
This is Supertramp and give a little bit now. My oldest friend lives in Scotland now, Becky, I've known since we were three, so we don't get to meet up very often.
Occasionally it's in Glasgow Airport for a quick cup of coffee and a cross on if I'm up there. But she's one of those friends that that we all have that knows you so well, as always, been such a solid person in my life, says it how it is. And this reminds me of the first concert that we ever went to, which was Supertramp. We were, I think, fifteen years old at the time, might have been sixteen actually, but we went up to London.
The concert was an appeals court, sadly no longer. And this felt like a time when when we were out there, we were away from home. We were in London, we were going to our first concert.
And you felt like, yeah, we're a grown up.
We're out feeling like the new kid on the block. And away we go.
Give a little. I'll give a little bit more, give a little bit of my love. There's so much that we need to share, so. Give a little Supertramp and give a little bit sermonette batters, as you mentioned, you just quite casually threw away there, but it is quite an achievement. You trained as a chef and then after that, you run your own successful catering company for many years before giving in to the lure of the land and taken up the reins on the farm that you now run.
All your friends advised you against it.
Why and why didn't you listen?
I think they felt that you've got a successful career. You've got a house.
Why would you want to take on a farm that you don't own the house? Nothing effectively there.
And you're not 18 anymore. I think that was the sort of coded language. But I felt very strongly that this was a life's calling. This is something that I'd always wanted to do and I was never, ever not going to do it. And now I think all those same friends think, well, yeah, she was probably right.
It was a good thing to do. You have two children of your own now, twins, Holly and George. Have either of them shown any interest in following in your footsteps?
They do. And there's a real danger for me and that I grew up being told that you will never have this. And there's a real danger that I don't say to them too much. You know, you have the opportunity to farm because that was a really important thing for me, that they would have the opportunity. And so I never say it to them. I just try and say, look, I want you to get the best education that you can.
I want you to go out and and do what you want in the world. I don't ever want them feeling that they have to come back to the farm. I have built a business that is there for them if they want to come back.
But I, I really have to steel myself not to ever go there on it because I want them to follow their dreams. I want them to follow their passions and life. And if that includes the farm, well, I would be brilliant. But that's going to be their call, not mine.
It's time for your fifth desk today. What are we going to hear next?
Christmas is is massively important to to all of us. For me, it's always been important. But on the back of what happened to my son George when he was diagnosed with Type one diabetes on the 16th of December 2009, I have chosen Silent Night, which is sung by Salisbury Cathedral Choir. Now Salisbury Cathedral and itself is iconic to me. It is at the centre of the city. Whenever I come back from wherever I am in the country, you can see the spire.
And if I'm on my farm, I can look south and see Downton Church and I can look north and see Salisbury Cathedral.
So when I look at what those buildings have been through, it gives me hope that the future will be bright. It will change. It will have many periods perhaps of hardship throughout the journey of my life. But they are both of them as a church and a cathedral.
They are buildings of of hope and reminders. And this track reminds me of how important Christ's birthday is. It's always a time when I remember that my son pulled through his diagnosis of Type one diabetes. And I just look at Christmas now and a very different light to what I have done previously. Silent Night, Salisbury Cathedral Choir, so many batters, your twins are 16 now. George was just five. The Christmas he was diagnosed with Type one diabetes.
So it was December. I'd had a chest infection. I was on antibiotics. And George, to all intents and purposes, appeared to have the same thing. And I took him to our downtown surgery. So George was obviously very ill.
He didn't have what I had, which was a chest infection. The doctor checked him out and said, well, look, I would take him home, keep him warm, and if you're still worried, take him into A&E. And within half an hour, that doctor had driven out to the farm and said, look, I'm going to test him for type one diabetes and I'm forever and a day grateful that he came out and he tested him and he said, right, take him into hospital right now.
And we drove in and the doctor came in and looked at him. And within a couple of minutes, another doctor came in.
And before I knew it, the room was just full of of people. And ultimately, George's body had shut down. His veins had collapsed. And he was in a very bad way.
But he was fully conscious and they were trying to get lines in terms they were putting needles into his arms, his feet.
And we got through to the following morning and I knew he was going to be OK then. It was just the most massive relief minutes.
Time for some more music now. Desk number six, what are we going to hear and why have you chosen this today?
This is the eye of the Tiger Sanghvi survivor. For me, this is about that forensic look at the tiger on the way forwards. It's about what leadership means to me. It's also about running.
I've run in three marathons and raised over 50000 pounds for for charity. So running as an important part of my life, I always remember the captain of the England World Cup team saying, you're going to leave your heart and soul on that pitch.
And that is what I say to my team at the NFU. We're going to make sure that British farming has a thriving, profitable future. But you do everything.
I want you to come off that pitch looking exhausted. And so this track is about that forensic eye of the tiger look on the future and it's about empowerment. And for me, when I'm running and running the last mile of a marathon, I try and have this to get me over the line and to get me through it. Survivor and Eye of the Tiger Minett batters, vegetarianism and veganism are both on the rise. The numbers are small, but they are growing.
Currently, I think about two percent of the UK population, a vegan or vegetarian. Is that movement something that farmers have responded to and interested in?
We need to be growing much more of our fruit and veg here. So currently we're producing about 16 percent of our fruit and about 52 percent of our vegetables. So we should with the maritime climate that we have, we should be producing much more of it here.
But for me, it's about what are the best components of the healthy, balanced diet and meat and dairy have a role to play in making sure that we get the right nutrients in our diet. But every single one of us, no matter what age we are, we need to be eating more fruit, more vegetables.
We work very closely with the British Nutrition Foundation who are totally focused on how do you get the best calories out of what you are eating without it being just produced in a laboratory. I think we tend to forget the importance of niche intensity of growing things in our soils, which ultimately is what gives the nutrient density to what we are eating. It starts with the soil, really everything is about the soil.
And we got to focus on our focusing on farmers on ever better soil health.
Another big concern of yours as NFU president is mental health. What particular pressures do farmers face when it comes to their mental health?
I think one of the challenges now is that farming is much more independent. You know, when I think of the farm that I grew up on, there were a lot more people within that community. Every farm had more people working on it. As we've mechanized and progressed, you've got less people in many cases.
You've just got the farmer doing all the work on their own. So they're isolated, they are isolated. And covid, of course, has led to more isolation. So it's about outreach and it's about engagement and it's about getting people to talk and open up and making sure, as with everybody, that the right help is there for people when it's needed.
I mean, how easy is that? You know, culturally, you know, you described your dad earlier as the archetypal farmer. You know, you just get on with it. Very tough, perhaps not willing to talk about his feelings. Very much so. And I think it's been an identity that to a certain extent has underpinned farming, that we are tough. We can work in very isolated, very challenging conditions, and it would be seen as a sign of weakness.
And the point I and many, many others, there are so many brilliant farming charities like Farm Crisis Network, RBI, the Addington Fund, who are doing so much to say, look, we are there for you to time.
Some more music right now. Minute, this is desk number seven. What are we going to hear and why have you chosen this?
For me, this is just such a wonderful track. It's Bette Midler and its Wind Beneath My Wings. And for me, there are two parts effectively to this track.
There are always an amazing team of people, the team and the nephew that works with me that gives me all the support. The experts that I work with are amazing.
And they keep me in the air. They keep the wind beneath my wings. And also to my mum, who throughout my entire life has been in the background, who's kept me airborne and all sorts of extraordinary situations.
This is, I think, a lovely track that sums up the importance of my friends, my family, my work colleagues, the people that keep me in the air.
You know, we need more Bette Midler and Wind Beneath My Wings minute batters farming life than is.
Well, you used the word vocation to describe it earlier. I think it's a vocation for you. Looking to the future, obviously, you know, you're right in the swing of things at the minute, but one day when you come to retire, what happens? Do you have to walk away?
And how would that feel?
I think for me and indeed the many farmers that I speak to, you know, leaving bricks and mortar behind is much easier than leaving the land.
And I think the culture, the heritage, the identity with where we farm is what farmers feel so passionately about and that deep and meaningful connection with the land.
And that is very hard to sort of contemplate.
I speak to many people who say I don't mind leaving the house. That is fine, but I really fear for leaving the land. And in many cases, those farms that have been in families for generations and so always stepping back for the land I think is difficult.
And for me, farming was about where I farm in South Welcher and near to the city of Salisbury in an area that I love, that I am passionate about. So for me, it's about the community.
Well, unfortunately, of course, I'm going to cast you away from all that. We're sending you to your desert island. What kind of island are you hoping for?
I'm hoping to go to a cultivated island just in case we needed a specific soil type.
I'm relying on you to do the right thing to put me on the perfect island. With all of that in place. The biodiversity is already there. Absolutely.
You do, though, need to be OK in your own company. I wonder how that will be for you.
Someone as busy as you to be able to step back, to be able to read, to be able to reflect would be something that I would treasure. All right. Well, it's almost time. One more test before you go there. What's that going to be?
I guess this final track means so much to me. I think my own faith has been about a journey, my commitment to the farmers of this country at this major time of Resat.
And so what I have chosen is I vow to be my country sung by the very beautiful Katherine Jenkins.
And it's my commitment to the farmers that I represent in my bid to do the very best that I can on their behalf.
I. Things. And Antoine. One of my tasks nonetheless. Uproars. Katherine Jenkins and I vow to thee my country or I mean it, but as I'm going to send you away to the island, I'm giving you the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare to take with you. You can take another book of your choice as well. What will that be?
My two children, Holly and George, one of my favorite times when they were growing up, when we were going out for picnics, when we were exploring the farm was reading to them in the evening.
We're going on a bear hunt and I guess it works for my life what the moral effectively of this story is all about.
And I hope it's work for them because it is all about we can't go over it, we can't go under it. We'll just have to go through it.
And in the splashing through puddles, going through long grass, climbing through brambles, you've just got to go through it. And I think it's been probably the mantra of my life and I hope it will become the mantra of theirs is certainly how I tried to bring them up, that there's not always a way over or under and you just sometimes got to crack on and go through it.
It'll be an appropriate read on the desert island as well.
Will, what about a luxury item? What would you like during this period of lockdown?
Have obviously been at home and I really decided that I wanted to be able to make some bread, but I couldn't buy any flour. And there's a lovely friend of mine who's a member called Judith Jacobs, who runs a farm shop near Peterborough, and I exchanged messages with her one day.
I can't buy any flour, Judith. I want to make some bread. And she said, I'll send you some flour within 24 hours. I had I had everything. And ever since then I've been making bread.
So what I'm going to do is use my wonderful members to provide me with the brilliant ingredients. I'm going to pick up some butter and I'm going to make some bread and I make it every week. And that's going to be my luxury item. And it's going to remind me of the brilliant farming businesses that I represent out there across the country.
Now, Minett, I love fresh bread. You can't get anything better than that. But obviously a bunch of ingredients going to the desert island is just going to be too practical. So I'm going to have to push back on that.
And you say that. So I'm going to bring all those ingredients together. I'm going to make it before I go, and then I'm going to take it with me.
So the loaf itself will be your luxury item. The loaf itself will be the luxury item.
Oh, how lovely.
And finally, which of the tracks that you've played us today would you save from the waves if you are to this again is a really difficult one, but I think it's going to be Supertramp and give a little bit, because if you listen to the track, we all need to smile a bit more. We all need to give each other more time and more love. And ultimately, if we all do that, I think we really can recover from covid build the community spirit.
And that is my hope. And I think that track is so very relevant to our times right now.
Minute, that is thank you very much for letting us hear your Desert Island Discs. Lauren, thank you so much.
My life has been in boxes that I feel I have truly unpacked for Desert Island this and it's been the most enormous privilege.
Thank you. Hi, I really hope you enjoyed that interview with Minnette, but as president of the National Farmers Union of England and Wales, we've passed away many farmers to our island. We've sent the shepherd, James Ray Banks, and also veggie box pioneer Guy Watson. You can find their episodes in our Desert Island Discs program archive and through BBC Science. And hey, if you fancy a bit more Tom Jones, he's there to next to my guest will be another legendary singer, Sir Cliff Richard, making a return trip to the island 60 years on from his first visit.
I do hope you'll join us.
Hello, Louis, through here, and I just wanted to hijack this podcast to tell you that I'm back with another series of my podcast, Grounded with Louis through. In case you hadn't noticed, covid hasn't gone away. And because of travel restrictions, neither have I. So I've rounded up the likes of Mikhaila called Frankie Boyle. All of us don't see that FKA twigs for another set of eclectic and thought-provoking conversations. Yes, I'm still grounded with me.
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