This isn’t usually a relationship advice column, but after this week’s session at the NFU Conference between Minette Batters and George Eustice it feels right to ask: How do you salvage a relationship that’s on the rocks?
First it’s the bickering, then the full-blown rows start and, sometimes, one party realises they can manage just fine without the other.
As with romances, so it is with business partnerships and between lobbyists and politicians.
Amid a session dominated by the crisis in the pork sector, the NFU president said she begged the farm minister to do more to intervene on behalf of primary producers.
In her closing remarks she referred to him with a certain forced optimism as her “friend and collaborator”, but later described the union’s relationship with Defra as “fraught”.
The environmental lobby likes to portray the relationship between farming unions and the upper echelons of Defra as one of sinister cosiness.
They think a wellington-clad warrior only has to march into Whitehall with a list of demands and they leave with the pockets of their wax jacket bulging with cash.
If such a relationship ever existed in the past, it no longer does.
Britain’s biggest farming union came to conference this week licking its wounds after a year of many setbacks.
It tried to warn about the ongoing pig crisis in advance. It tried to warn about the ongoing autumn slurry spreading rules debacle in advance.
It even asked for direct payment rates not to be cut for a longer period to help ride out the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit volatility.
All pleas fell on stony ground. It has been such a thin year that there were scant positives to point to beyond securing a few more agricultural attachés to win more buyers for our goods overseas.
The problem for the NFU president is that the farm minister is seeing other people.
Defra’s environmental schemes are being created with direct farmer feedback at the pilot stage, bypassing some of the need for traditional lobbying.
Of course, there will be many non-NFU members out there who will be pleased to feel as if they have a more direct line to the top, rather than policymakers only relying on industry bodies that don’t represent them.
When crises rise or bold new policies that cut across departments are proposed, it is not often within Mr Eustice’s gift to oblige, even if he privately agrees
The other problem for Mrs Batters is that she can’t get a date with the other people the union needs to see.
When crises rise or bold new policies that cut across departments are proposed, it is not often within Mr Eustice’s gift to oblige, even if he privately agrees.
Need rules relaxed to make an easier path for seasonal workers? That’s a Home Office problem and the NFU can’t even get a meeting with Priti Patel.
Need to coerce the public sector into buying more British produce? That’s in the gift of the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and Social Care and a myriad other agencies.
Farming is changing and farmers will have to adapt to stay relevant. It is no different for their union.
It still has excellent engagement on a technical level, but if it wants to remain valued by farmers as a champion of their causes at the heart of government, it will need to find a way to transcend these challenges.
Perhaps this won’t happen until the next general election.
Until then, as it gazes across the table in the lobbying dating game, this government appears intent on playing with our food.