Kent Messenger column w.e. 05-06-15 – Farming for economic growth
The ability of the private sector to more than absorb the jobs lost in the public sector is widely seen as the story of Britain’s economic recovery so far, but where do we go from here, particularly in Kent and the South East? In mid-April I met with Kent farmers, rural business people and NFU representatives to gain an update on the challenges and opportunities in their industry.
Directly employing around 50,000 people in the South East, and supporting a further 40,000 jobs in rural tourism, I take the future health of this sector very seriously. Several of the main issues are of an international nature; For example certain pesticides that provide a significant production advantage to larger world producers (e.g. the US) can’t be used here because UK licence fees erode the profits of the chemical companies too heavily for their liking. I believe pressure could be brought to bear on those companies in various ways to help them review their approach.
More positively, there are enormous new export opportunities developing in markets like China, India and the Antipodes. My farmers say that given some help with marketing and dealing with various obstacles to certain export markets they are sure we can enjoy sustained and significant trade growth, especially with ‘Top Fruit’ (tree borne fruit) where Kent is a world leader for quality and variety.
I am now liaising with Liz Truss - the Secretary of State at DEFRA, my old boss Sajit Javid who is now Secretary of State at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, and Lord Maude, the new Minister of State for Trade and Investment. Between us I hope to build upon DEFRA’s 2012 Food Export Action Plan and help find that growth for our local farmers. That in turn will bring jobs and apprenticeships for our local people – one of my core pledges for Maidstone & The Weald.
Helen's weekly column is published every Friday in the Kent Messenger. The content shown here may differ slightly from the press version.