OXFORDSHIRE farmers have a new Olympic champion on their side.

Former Olympic rower Annie Vernon is now working for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

She won a silver medal at Beijing in 2008, but before her eight-year international rowing career she helped out on her family’s beef and dairy farm in Cornwall. As an NFU county adviser she will champion Oxfordshire farmers’ causes and help them lobby the government.

She told the Oxford Mail: “The British countryside is sometimes the most fantastic place to live and we should defend it with our dying breath.

“I really believe in farming and British food production, I could never do a job I didn’t really believe in.”

Ms Vernon took up rowing while studying at Cambridge University, and her parents have continued to run their farm.

She said she has hung on to her love of farming and an interest in the NFU, so when the job was advertised online she applied.

In her new role as county adviser for Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire she will advise NFU members on how policy relates to their business. She will also represent farming interests to local authorities, help farmers lobby government and act as a police liaison. On Wednesday, she met Oxfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Anthony Stansfeld.

One issue that resonates with her at the moment is bovine tuberculosis. Her parents’ farm, where she grew up, has just had a positive test for the disease.

“That could absolutely destroy them,” she said, “so that is one of my biggest concerns.

“Bovine TB restrictions can kill your business. Farmers are already doing all they can to stop it from spreading, but it is all about trying to get DEFRA to work as hard as they can to help.”

Ms Vernon lives in Henley, and her job will be based at Milton Common near Thame.

She succeeds Nerys Wright, who left the role for a post with EBLEX – the governing body of the English beef and sheep industry.

The post of county adviser was created in November last year following a decision by the NFU’s governing council to invest £500,000 in its regional activities. The NFU has 55,000 members nationwide and nearly 1,000 in Oxfordshire.

NFU South East Regional Director William White said: “The NFU’s review of its regional activities recognised the need to improve connection with our members and to sharpen the focus of our work at a county level.

“We recognise that NFU members value local engagement with MPs, local authorities, the police and a myriad of other stakeholders.

“Advisers are already reinvigorating our lobbying campaigns, representing members’ interests to promote the best conditions in which a modern farming business will thrive.”