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NFU pushes Andrea Leadsom to clarify government commitments to agriculture post-Brexit after MP warns Kent farms could go out of business

PUBLISHED: 12:13 21 February 2017 | UPDATED: 12:16 21 February 2017

Seasonal workers

Seasonal workers

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Meurig Raymond is calling for the right trade deals, access to a competent and reliable workforce and a domestic agricultural policy that works for the country

Farming chiefs are urging the environment secretary to clarify the government’s commitment to agriculture post-Brexit ahead of fears Kent farms could go bust without the right help.

The president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) highlighted in a speech at the union’s annual conference today the three areas government needs to take action on if Brexit is to be successful for the country’s food and farming industry.

Meurig Raymond says these are the right trade deals, access to a competent and reliable workforce and a domestic agricultural policy that works for the country.

The call is being made to the secretary of state for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Andrea Leadsom, a former Kent schoolgirl herself who briefly challenged Theresa May in a bid to become prime minister last year.

Mr Raymond said: “Over the next two years negotiations will take place which will have a massive impact on farming and Britain’s ability to have a thriving food production system - Brexit needs to be successful when we leave the EU.”

British farmers produce the raw ingredients for the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink, worth £108 billion.

Around 15 per cent of Kent’s workforce is in the food industry and there are some 15,000 farm jobs across the county.

However, the NFU says the industry now needs certainty and firm commitments from government if the country is to feel the benefits of a thriving food and farming industry.

It comes after Faversham and Mid Kent MP, Helen Whately, 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.

The government has hinted a seasonal worker scheme could return but Mr Raymond is urging Mrs Leadsom to make firm promises and end the uncertainty clouding the sector.

“We need government to now build on the strong foundations laid down in July so that it is clear how and why the industry will be better off,” he will say.

“NFU members want to deliver on a vision shared with government for an increasingly profitable, competitive and sustainable food and farming sector.

“Britain has a right to expect improved food security and enduring economic growth. Put simply farming contributes to the health and wealth of the British people.

“We have been clear on what we think are the main ingredients for success - it is a fairly simple recipe, with three main ingredients.

“Firstly, unrestricted access to the European market; secondly, continued access to a competent and reliable workforce both pre and post farm-gate, and thirdly, a new agricultural policy which assists in the development of an increasingly productive, progressive and above all profitable farming sector.

“We will need the government’s support in all of these areas, starting with keeping important trade routes open to ensure a smooth transition to new trading relationships with Europe post-Brexit with the best possible access to markets all over the world.

“Farming is reliant on being able to recruit both a permanent and seasonal workforce and we have a very serious challenge right now.

“The horticulture and poultry sectors – which are reliant on seasonal temporary workers - are already struggling to recruit up to 95,000 needed by 2021.

“We urge the cabinet to work with us to sort this out as a matter of urgency.

“British food production depends upon it - in fact, the whole food chain depends on it.”

Mrs Leadsom said at the event: “There is no doubt that there will be support for our vital food and farming industry after we leave the EU.

“But I’m not going to stand here today and pre-empt the work the government is doing to get the best possible deal for the UK.

“Those negotiations will take time, and change is, of course, inevitable.

“But I want you to know that I will fight your corner at every opportunity – and fight for the huge contribution you make to our communities, to our environment, and to our economy.”

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