A shortage of skilled workers has brought farmers and their representative body the NFU together with Kent MP Helen Grant, whose constituency of Maidstone & the Weald is home to a significant number of fruit growers.
Kent NFU advisers Amanda Corp and Ben Gibbons and NFU group secretary Patrick Bowring attended a meeting with Helen, hosted by growers Ollie and Robert Pascall of Clockhouse Farm in Coxheath. Whilst the main item on the agenda was seasonal workers, other topics were also discussed including rural crime, the Australian trade deal and environmental management incentives for farmers.
Helen said “The economic well-being of our farmers is vital to the economy of Kent and to thousands of people who live and work here. I have always made a point of keeping familiar with the ever-moving challenges and to seek solutions with the relevant government departments. The current allowance of 30,000 seasonal workers is clearly insufficient in the short to medium term, where farmers say a figure nearer to 70,000 is the real need. Automation and robotics may offer a long-term solution, but it seems this is at least 10 years away from becoming a reality and farmers need to plug the gap.”.
Amanda Corp said: “We had a most productive meeting with Helen Grant MP who was receptive to the idea of a permanent seasonal workers’ scheme put forward by the NFU to address the chronic shortage of workers on fresh produce farms nationwide. This would enable growers to recruit workers from countries with agrarian economies to help pick, pack and process produce. In the short term, the NFU and other food organisations are also calling for a Covid-19 recovery visa scheme to recruit to fill vital roles across the entire supply chain.”