We must back British farming 365 days a year
We must support all our farmers to keep doing what they do best - feeding us, caring for the environment and maintaining the varied and beautiful landscapes across the whole of the UK.
I am delighted to be hosting a debate on the future of domestic agriculture on Back British Farming Day. The sea of wheatsheaf pin badges across the House of Commons is a huge demonstration of support for our farmers and all that they do to produce high quality, nutritious and delicious food, while also playing a vital role as stewards of our countryside.
I will proudly be wearing my badge today to champion local farmers in my Stafford constituency, but also representing horticulture producers across the UK in my role as the co-chair of the APPG for Fruit, Vegetables and Horticulture.
For growers in particular, I know that labour shortages are the biggest challenge facing their businesses. Earlier this summer, I chaired a roundtable on the topic of Seasonal Agriculture Workers with Fruit, Vegetable and Flower growers from across the UK. All these producers highlighted the labour needs of this sector and I was particularly struck by how hard some of these growers had worked to try and get seasonal workers, but that the dual challenges of Covid-19 and the transition period had made this extremely difficult.
Last week I met with Staffordshire Farmers who told me about the steps they had taken to recruit domestically, yet despite those efforts still haven’t been able to secure the full workforce that is needed to harvest and pick their fresh produce.
I would like to see every supermarket have an “aisle for the British Isles”
The Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme that the government expanded at the end of last year for 30,000 visas was extremely welcome and has been a lifeline for many businesses.
Yet farmers remain uncertain about the future, I am therefore adding my voice to the calls to expand and make the seasonal workers pilot scheme permanent.
In addition, I want to see the ornamentals sector, which includes some of our iconic British flowers such as the daffodil, included within that seasonal workers scheme. This will provide some much needed certainty to the agricultural sector and enable businesses to invest in new technologies to increase their crop yields and extend their growing seasons. Ultimately, meaning that there is more British fruit and veg available for longer, which is definitely a good thing for both consumers and farmers.
It is clear that the British public is supportive of our farmers. In a recent poll 80 per cent said they supported the increased procurement of British food in schools, hospitals and government agencies and I completely agree.
We also need to make it easier for consumers to buy British goods. Supermarkets are an important part of the food supply chain and therefore play a crucial role in ensuring that consumers have the ability to make more informed choices about the food they purchase. I believe that all supermarkets should dedicate a section to purely British products where busy shoppers know that all of the produce comes from Great Britain, in short, I would like to see every supermarket have an “aisle for the British Isles”.
So, while today is an important day, as politicians we must all unite to back our farmers 365 days a year. When Stafford farmers are going out in all weathers, every day of the year, I want them to feel confident that we in Westminster are showing our support by delivering real, tangible, well-evidenced, policies that will benefit their businesses.
We must support all our farmers to keep doing what they do best - feeding us, caring for the environment and maintaining the varied and beautiful landscapes across the whole of the UK. And let’s also remember to never take that work for granted.
Theo Clarke is the Conservative MP for Stafford and co-chair of the APPG for Fruit, Vegetables and Horticulture.
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