The general election could be made or broken on the showgrounds of the South West, a leading rural group has said, as showing season begins in earnest this week.
Owen Paterson is expected to get a grilling over many issues, led by the control of TB, when he attends the first day of the Devon County Show at Westpoint near Exeter tomorrow.
And the South West director of the Country Land and Business Association says he expects rural issues to rise swiftly up the political agenda as they play a critical role in European and UK elections.
Mr Paterson has proved largely popular among since taking the Defra brief in 2012 but many farmers are upset by what they see as a politically-motivated retreat from an extension of badger culling in an effort to control bovine TB.
Also on the agenda when Mr Paterson gives his speech to 200 guests at the CLA breakfast tomorrow morning will be the price of beef and milk, the continuing bête noir of getting British produce to take pride of place on supermarket shelves – and of course the situation over CAP reform.
John Mortimer's the CLA's South West director, said delegates will expect to hear the Minister explain what the next Government's rural agenda might include – and what it intends to do to tackle the ongoing issues facing the region's farmers.
He continued: "We anticipate that the rural areas of the South West will become a key political battleground and there would be no surprise in seeing the issues which affect people who live and work in our part of the world climbing quickly up the political agenda."
Sharing the platform will be CLA deputy president Ross Murray, who will be outlining the CLA's own agenda set out in its recently published manifesto for the countryside. Invited guests from across all sectors of agriculture will be on hand to meet the Mr Paterson and Mr Murray.
A statement from the CLA said: "Visitors will be hoping to hear exactly how the Government intends to tackle key issues facing the countryside and rural communities from the man at the sharp end of rural policy."
Mr Mortimer said: "The Minister has been a great supporter of the industry, particularly in the aftermath of the disastrous flooding which affected much of our region.
"He has tackled some difficult issues head on – but there are still some major challenges ahead and our members will want to hear about the Government's plans are, not just for the next 12 months, but in the years after the election.
"We are extremely lucky to have the Minister come to the show to speak to us and I'm certain it will be a fascinating morning for anybody involved in agriculture or rural land management."