GALLERY: Environment secretary Andrea Leadsom visits Kent fruit farm as MP continues to push for seasonal workers scheme
PUBLISHED: 10:10 19 April 2017 | UPDATED: 10:10 19 April 2017
Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately has previously warned a shortage of labour is putting county farms at risk of going out of business
The environment secretary visited a Kent fruit farm this week as a county MP continued to push for a seasonal agricultural workers scheme.
Helen Whately, who represents Faversham and Mid Kent, invited Andrea Leadsom - a former Kent schoolgirl herself - to WB Chambers and Son in Sutton Valence and urged her Conservative colleague to help introduce a scheme to allow workers to come to the UK temporarily to work on farms.
The MP, who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group for fruit and vegetable farmers, orchestrated a Westminster Hall debate just before Christmas, where she warned colleagues a shortage of seasonal labour is putting Kent farms at risk of going out of business.
After a tour of the fruit packing facilities - currently packing imported fruit, but soon to switch over to local strawberries as the season begins - Mrs Whately and Ms Leadsom were joined by more local farmers for a round-table meeting.
Discussion focussed on concerns about access to labour, rising costs, the importance of investing in research and development, and getting the right balance on pesticides.
“Agriculture is crucial for Faversham and Mid Kent,” Mrs Whately said.
“Our famous fruit and hop farms shape the local countryside and make it the Garden of England we love.
“Farmers – and their workers – make a vital contribution to the local economy, and at a national level, I’m proud Kent produces an important share of the country’s supply of fruit.
“Farming is also crucial to other local industries like tourism.
“Our glorious countryside is part of the experience of visiting Kent, and it’s farmers who do the lion’s share of looking after the landscape – along with growing the crops the county is famous for.
“Fruit farming has been a success story in recent years, and I want to see it continue.
“But with rising labour costs and challenges recruiting workers, local farmers are seriously worried.
“That’s why I asked the secretary of state to come to Kent, visit a farm and hear first-hand from farmers.
“She left in no doubt about the importance of a seasonal workers scheme.
“Now we are expecting a general election, I will be following up to press for a commitment to this in the new manifesto.”
Ms Leadsom added: “I was delighted to be invited down to Kent by Helen and to have the chance to meet local farmers and growers.
“As we set about designing our future agriculture policies, it was incredibly useful to hear Helen’s perspective, as the local MP and chair of the APPG for fruit and vegetable farming, as well as representatives of our world-class horticulture sector.
“Horticulture is central to my ambition of freeing up farmers to grow more, sell more and export more Great British food and I look forward to working with Helen and Kent’s farmers to achieve this.”