The nation's leading farmer discussed flooding, animal disease and food policy concerns with Norfolk's "exceptional" growers during her final official visit to the county.

Minette Batters will step down on February 21 after six tumultuous years as president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

She has helped steer the industry through Covid-19, the policy and subsidy upheavals of Brexit, the market turmoil sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation, and extreme weather ranging from droughts to floods.

While this adversity has tested the resilience of farmers, she also hailed successes in galvanising public support and securing crucial government policy "wins".

Her two-day trip to Norfolk included meetings with senior NFU members and local branch representatives, including a reception attended by about 80 people at Barnham Broom hotel.

Topics discussed included flooding in the Broads, the rising number of bluetongue cases in Norfolk cattle, and the new system of environmental incentives being implemented as the EU's former subsidies are phased out after Brexit.

Mrs Batters said: "I think people here in Norfolk are generally worried about the lack of a plan from the government on food production.

"There is a bit of engagement with SFI [Defra's new Sustainable Farming Incentive] but I think they very much want to know if there's going to be more of a focus on producing food rather than just solely environmental crops. There are a lot of questions being asked about politics, put it that way.

"The biggest priority is about food security being embedded into these environmental land management schemes. I would like to see a focus on that because that is a big call for us at the general election, and we need all parties signed up to that."

Mrs Batters said the toughest challenges of her presidential tenure included fears of a no-deal Brexit, the lockdowns and food shortages of the Covid pandemic, and the threat of unfair competition under new international trade deals. 

One of her "proudest moments" was when more than a million people signed a petition urging the government not to undermine British farming standards by allowing imports of cheap foods produced to lower standards than those required here.

"Everyone came together, farming organisations, consumer and environmental groups - that coalition has never come together before," she said. "That was one of my proudest moments, that one in 60 people said we do not want to see food imported that would be illegal to produce here.

"The public have become much more aware of where their food comes from, people really focus now on buying locally, buying British, and also a recognition that they do not want things like hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken coming here."

Mrs Batters said it was important to protect the UK food industry - which Norfolk plays an essential role in supporting.

"Norfolk is one of the largest food-producing counties, and they are exceptionally good at it," she said. "It underpins the rural economy here just as much, if not more, than tourism.

"We have to have a vibrant agricultural sector that is maintained and has the opportunity to grow in Norfolk. It is of paramount importance.

"There is a lot of excitement among younger people here today about the opportunities, but it is really about trying to make sure that politicians buy into that challenge.

"We should be leading the world in new technologies and innovations that are transformative in the way we produce food and Norfolk, renowned for its rotations, is really at the heart of all that."

Mrs Batters is due to be succeeded by deputy NFU president Tom Bradshaw at the union's elections on February 21.