New NFU Director Has His Roots in the Region; Food Security and Planning Are among the Issues the NFU's New Regional Director Is Planning to Tackle Head on. KAREN DENT Speaks to Barney Kay, Who Took over the Reins from Richard Ellison at the Start of the Month
Byline: KAREN DENT
ALTHOUGH he is south coast born and bred, the NFU's new regional director is no stranger to the region. Barney Kay took his first steps into the farming industry by studying agriculture at Newcastle University, where his love affair with the North East began.
Now, as the new regional director of the NFU, he is reacquainting himself with the North East and has a range of issues he intends to get to grips with, after taking over from Richard Ellison, who has retired after 21 years.
Although not from a farming background - his father works in horticulture and his mother is a doctor - Mr Kay says he always knew he wanted to be involved in the industry.
Mr Kay said: "I did a straight agriculture course and I graduated in 1995. It was a good agriculture department at Newcastle.
"Newcastle is just a cracking area and a lively town for a youngster of a certain age. It's given me a love of Northumberland and the North East as a whole. I was keen to renew my acquaintance with the area when this job came up."
He is back in the region after a varied career that has taken him from across the UK and into Europe to work.
His practical experience started as a sheep shearer - "a hard way to make a living" - before moving into livestock and dairy, then arable.
Mr Kay said: "The last farm I was on was a large arable unit in Romania. For my parents' generation, Australia, New Zealand and Canada were the new frontiers of agriculture.
"There were great opportunities in Eastern Europe and it was really interesting. I went to work for a British farmer out there and learned a lot.
"It's a very different system and very different challenge. A lot of it is logistics - getting the equipment and getting spares, then trying to keep the workforce sober was quite a challenge. I learned a lot in a short space of time."
He returned to the UK in the late 1990s and moved from a hands-on to a consultancy role, initially as an advisor for the NFU in East Anglia.
He was in post when swine fever broke out.
That was swiftly followed by the 2001 foot and mouth crisis.
Mr Kay said: "It was a very steep learning curve. I saw the industry through the worst of times and I saw farmers pull together as an industry."
He remained with the NFU for his next role, moving to the organisation's headquarters as a meat industry advisor before working in retail analysis.
"Then I was poached by the National Pig Association, where I was for five and a half years as general manager," said Mr Kay.
"The industry has almost halved in 10 years, but I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel."
He is now planning to bring all this experience to bear in the North East after securing the NFU's top job in the region. "Kevin Pearce is director of regions for the NFU and I'd worked with him before and I knew the job was coming up," said Mr Kay. …