February 2023, Hunton, Kent: Helen Grant MP and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) have met with farmers from across Maidstone and the Weald to work on a plan to address the unprecedented economic challenges being faced across the horticultural sector, particularly in Kent.
Farmers told Mrs Grant that the current situation is the worst they have ever encountered. This is due to a near perfect storm created by dramatically increased production costs, a dysfunctional seasonal worker scheme, certain very large supermarkets abusing their powerful buying positions and post-Brexit conditions favouring overseas competition.
The specific issues were clarified to Mrs Grant in detail, but farmers say there are fixes that can be put in place, they just need those in control of the rules to listen and act quickly.
Mrs Grant said ‘As a working group we are putting together an action list that is clear and concise and will go a long way to redressing the huge imbalance in trading conditions our farmers are having to tackle.
I have already engaged with Mark Spencer, the Minister of State for Food, Farming and Fisheries, who has agreed to come to my constituency and hear for himself the core problems and potential solutions needed to restore sustainability to the horticultural industry in Kent.
Mark is a farmer himself and his family and educational background is firmly in the agricultural sector. He is the right person to take this up first hand, and I am also in direct contact with my friend and colleague, Therese Coffey, the Secretary of State at DEFRA.
Farming is absolutely key to the prosperity of thousands of people in my constituency and right across Kent. This is therefore a massive priority for me and my team and I have pledged my full support in helping to turn this situation around’.
NFU County Adviser, Amanda Corp said, ‘I cannot speak for the government and we would like to hear what they are doing on food security.
Here in Kent we recognise the war in Ukraine has left farm businesses facing volatility and uncertainty, with rising input costs up 50% since 2019. To assist, government has expanded options for support under the new ELM scheme and countryside stewardship. And on labour, we have made 45,000 visa available for seasonal workers, 15,000 more than last year, with the possibility of 10,000 more, subject to proof of need. They will be paid for a minimum of 32 hours per week at National Living Wage of £10.42 per hour.’