Defra minister Andrea Leadsom this week visited Kent fruit grower WB Chambers & Son to hear more about the labour challenges facing the industry.
Local Conservative Helen Whately, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, organised the visit so Leadsom could hear first-hand from growers about the difficulties in recruiting seasonal labour.
Whately said she is campaigning for a permit scheme for seasonal agricultural workers to come to the UK temporarily. “I'm confident that Ms Leadsom left Kent in no doubt of how badly such a scheme is needed,” she said.
“Now we are expecting a General Election, I will be following up to press for a commitment to this in the new manifesto.
“The horticulture industry needs thousands of seasonal workers every year to pick and pack produce. But with low unemployment locally, and only around 800 jobseekers, farmers are reliant on workers from overseas – mainly from EU countries.
“Many have already seen a fall in numbers of applications for fruit picking jobs, and are anticipating bigger recruitment difficulties once we have left the EU.”
Leadsom said: “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.”