The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is proposing to hold a drive-in annual general meeting so that it can elect its next president.

Coronavirus has forced many changes on society and UFU chief executive, Wesley Aston, said the idea was as a "truly novel but pragmatic approach".

The union was set to hold its AGM in April but decided to delay proceedings for three months because of coronavirus. During this time, the incumbent president Ivor Ferguson and deputies Victor Chestnutt and David Brown remained in their posts.

Aston explained that with key issues such as Brexit, the Agriculture Bill at Westminster and likely changes to the food market in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, it was essential to have a new president in place.

Given that drive-in churches, cinemas and restaurants can all now take place, we hope that the NI Executive will permit us to hold an AGM that is as close to normal as possible while protecting the safety of both our members and staff.

"A first – and hopefully a last – it will allow us to ensure that we have a president at the helm of the organisation,” he said.

“Our AGM plays a key role in the organisation. This is not just about electing a new president,” said Aston.

“It is an opportunity for the membership to publicly thank the outgoing president for his contribution. Ivor Ferguson has had a very tough two-year term, already extended by three months. This needs to be recognised.

The approach we have chosen is about that recognition but also allowing the nominated president, Victor Chestnutt, the platform to set out his plans for the critical period ahead for the farming and wider agri-food industry to those who elect him.

"Our unique drive-in meeting will achieve that and after it we will be ready for the huge future challenges,” he said.

The union's chief executive stressed that this was not a straightforward option, but neither were any of the alternatives.

"The proposal, which is based on current government guidelines and will be subject to further unlocking relaxations approved by the NI Executive, is to stage the AGM at Balmoral Park Lisburn, with large screens, social distancing and people taking part from their cars.

This will also provide the usual opportunity for our deputy president candidates to speak directly to members before the election takes place.

"All the proposed plans are built around creating an event that will keep all involved safe but also allow us to get on with the preparation for the busy times ahead, when the mechanics of holding an AGM are likely to be the least of our challenges,” said Aston.