I was at the South West Sheep event a couple of weeks ago, the day after farming and environment minister Jane Kennedy resigned.

The minister had been due to open the show but must have had more pressing issues than sheep on her mind that day, after her bust up with Gordon Brown, because she didn’t show up. It was left to the Conservatives to fill Labour’s shoes, in the form of local Tory MEP Neil Parish.

The organisers gently suggested the opportunity shouldn’t be used for political point scoring but the MEP couldn’t resist a gentle swipe at Ms Kennedy’s replacement, ex-firefighter and anti-hunting campaigner, Jim Fitzpatrick.

On the face of it, former firefighter Fitzpatrick seems to be as far removed from farming and the rural environment as it is possible to be. He is a former transport under secretary of state for the environment who lists as his interests anti-poverty, regeneration, anti-racism and fire, while his hobbies are West Ham United FC, golf, reading, films and Millwall RFC. Mmm. I suppose the fire-fighting bit could be useful when dealing with a disgruntled farming industry.

And little wonder the industry is disgruntled. There can’t be many positions in Government that have had such a high turnaround of incumbents in recent years.

In fact there have been five food and farming ministers in as many years, raising concerns about loss of continuity in such complex areas as set-aside and the supermarket ombudsman.

In the words of NFU president, Peter Kendall, DEFRA’s revolving door policy means there is little evidence of a coherent plan to create a strong and prosperous farming industry.

On his website, Jim Fitzpatrick declares that he is “here to promote the East End of London’’, his constituency. There is no mention at all of an interest in rural affairs.

These indeed may be turbulent times in politics but agriculture deserves more commitment from Government than it’s getting.

We are told that we can expect Esther Rantzen to run for parliament at the next election. Perhaps the farming industry should nominate a couple of likely candidates too. If they were voted into office, at least there would be someone with a good knowledge of agriculture in place should the role of food and farming minister become vacant once more.