Standing up for Kent's farmers

Farming is at the heart of rural life in Faversham and Mid Kent - and it’s crucial to our tourism and food and drink industries. But it’s a tough business, so speaking up for farmers is an important part of my job as the MP.

My Aims

  • Support local farmers and businesses in the food and drink sector, boosting growth in this part of the local economy and with it, local jobs.
  • Promote Kentish produce and safeguard Kent’s future as the Garden of England

 

What I'm campaigning for

  • Help for fruit farmers as they introduce the Living Wage
  • Decisions on pesticides and neonicotinoids based on sound science 
  • Basic Payments to farmers on time

I’m also looking into other concerns raised by local farmers, including restrictions on weights for agricultural trailers (where we have lower weight limits than in the EU), and the idea of a farm infrastructure allowance which would help farmers replace old buildings with more modern, efficient farm buildings and structures

 

Progress

2 March 2017:  I asked DEFRA Ministers for an update as part of my campaign to introduce a new Seasonal Agricultural Permits Scheme: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/dcbcf772-1c9a-4bc0-9a7a-da25da1acf9d?in=09:49:35 

21 December 2016: Adressed AGM of Swale NFU. 

30 November 2016: Secured a debate in Parliament about reintroducing a Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Scheme.  Read more here 

7 November 2016: Launched the All Party Parliamentary Group for Fruit and Vegetable Farming.  Read more here

14 October 2016: Hosted a 'Brexit Breakfast' roundtable discussion with several local farmers, so that I could lobby most effectively on their behalf as we renegotiate our relationship with the European Union. 

16 September 2016: Wrote, jointly with other MPs, to the Chair of the Low Pay Commision asking him to review the Accommodation Offset in light of the impending introduction of the National Living Wage

12 September 2016: Backed the NFU's post EU Referendum farming pledge.  Read more here

28 June 2016: Organised a meeting between Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and rural MPs to lobby the Government to do more to mitigate the impact of the National Living Wage on farmers. 

17 June 2016: Hosted quarterly meeting with local NFU branch and local farmers ahead of EU Referendum. 

26 May 2016: Received confirmation from DEFRA that Trading Standards will be looking into the 'false' farm names created by some supermarkets.

16 May 2016:  Wrote jointly to the RPA and DEFRA to raise cocnerns about the RPA's mapping system incorrectly registering errors on 2015 BPS claims. 

29 April 2016: Wrote jointly to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Advertising Standards Authority raising concerns about labelling - in particular about companies creating fake farm names giving the impression that products are sourced from the UK. 

11 March 2016: Spent the day meeting a range of farmers across Faversham and Mid Kent to listen to their thoughts on the upcoming referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. 

9 February 2016: Hosted an event in Parliament for farmers to lobby MPs with concerns over the National Living Wage. Read more here

8 January 2016: Met with the Rural Task Force at Sittingbourne Police Station to raise local farmer's concerns and to learn what more I can do to help. 

3 December 2015: Wrote to local NFU branches letting them know about the system I have established with DEFRA to help raise urgent BPS casework effectively with Ministers. 

5 November 2015: Asked the Farming Minister to give an update on what steps DEFRA is taking to support Fruit Farmers during the introduction of the Living Wage.  You can watch here

28 October 2015: Spoke up for Kent’s fruit farmers in a national debate about the Living Wage.  You can read what I said here

23 October 2015: Met Local farmers at the NFU Marden Branch to discuss progress on the campaign to increase tractor weight limits and the need for an infrastructure allowance

4 September 2015: Wrote to the Farming Minister to press for further research into neonicotinoids

3 September 2015:  Met local farmers at Peter Forknall’s dairy farm in Chart Sutton to hear their views and learn how I can support them

6 August 2015: Updated local NFU representatives about the action I am taking to find a long term solution to Operation Stack.  Farmers with perishable products need Kent to keep moving.

29 June 2015:  Wrote to The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP to raise concerns about whether the Basic Payments Scheme is on track.  I received confirmation that the Rural Payments Agency will take on 200 extra staff over the busy Christmas period, and expects to make a vast majority of payments on time.

18 May 2015: Met the Chief Executive of the NFU and signed a pledge to Back British Farming

 

Background

Farming is important to Faversham and Mid Kent and makes a significant contribution to our local economy. From our famous fruit farms and large arable farms, sheep on the downs and marshes, to smaller scale dairy herds, hop growers, vineyards and organic producers, agriculture shapes our countryside - and it’s crucial to our tourism and food and drink industries.

Farming is at the heart of rural life but it’s a tough business, so speaking up for Faversham and Mid Kent’s farmers is an important part of my job as the MP.

Local fruit farmers are worried about the Living Wage. Though every farmer I’ve spoken to supports it, some are concerned about the financial impact it will have on their businesses.  Fruit farming is worth over £1 billion to the UK economy and some of the UK’s most successful fruit farms are in Faversham and Mid Kent. It’s a labour intensive sector and wages make up a significant proportion of the costs. Profit margins can be as low as 1%, but fruit farmers will now have to absorb a 12% pay rise for some of their workers. They are hoping supermarkets will be willing to pay more to cover the extra costs, but supermarkets are notorious for driving a hard bargain. At the moment many shoppers are willing to pay more for British fruit, valuing the quality, knowing where it’s come from and British production standards. It’s important this loyalty continues, so that people don’t opt for cheaper imported fruit. I’m backing the NFU’s ‘Buy British’ campaign and keeping up pressure on the Government to help farmers through the introduction of the living wage.

Many farmers rely on the income from the EU’s Basic Payments Scheme (BPS).  The BPS is a system of grants and payments to help farmers with their large overheads and fixed costs.  It is critical that these payments are made on time, otherwise farmers run out of money - but in the past this has not been the case.  I am in regular contact with the Government to make sure they are on track with the the payments. 

One of the most controversial topics I speak to farmers about is the use of pesticides. At the moment farmers are generally not allowed to use a group of pesticides called ‘neonicotinoids’. I’ve received many letters from people worried about the effect of these on bees. Farmers have told me themselves, they have to worry about bees, as their livelihood depends on them fertilising crops.  As much as 90% of crops such as oilseed rape and strawberries are estimated to be fertilised by bees.  However, they feel the current restrictions are based on poor science. The restrictions make it harder for our farmers to compete with growers outside the EU, and also mean they have to use older pesticides which they are concerned are more harmful.  We must make sure we minimise harm from pesticide use, which needs decisions based on sound science.

I want to safeguard Kent’s future as the Garden of England.  This is important for our local economy and for national food security.  This clearly involves the Government taking some action, but we can all help too, by making sure we buy Kentish produce at the shops.

News

Farmers need help recruiting fruit and veg pickers

British fruit is the best in the world, but farmers in my constituency told me there was a real risk of fruit going unpicked next year if they can’t recruit enough seasonal workers.

Forward with fruit farmers

I'm delighted to have been elected as Chair of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fruit and Vegetable Farming. 

Backing British farming - post Brexit

Following the referendum result, farmers need assurances that the Government will continue to provide the support they need after we leave the EU. So I've pledged to back British farming.