20 SEP 2018

Agriculture Bill and the Rural Economy

 

The rural economy is currently worth an estimated £50 billion to the UK, directly providing 475,000 jobs and, crucially, provides the backbone of our nation's food security.

That is why it has my attention and why our famers are so important to this constituency. In July many of us met at my Rural Business Forum and last weekend I had the pleasure of reconnecting at the annual Weald of Kent Ploughing Match. It is a wonderful celebration of all things rural and an important opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead of us, not to mention our young Archie dog's first (timid) shot at terrier racing.

Yes, there was some nervousness about the potential for unintended consequences of Brexit, but I was more struck by a common thread of desire to make the most of the opportunities that it presents.

To that end the Government has just published the Agriculture Bill which was formulated from over 43,000 consultation responses. The Bill aims to make things fairer for farmers by associating farming payments with the provision of environmental benefits such as; improved air quality, higher animal welfare standards, better public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding. Little Mill farm's 'wetlands' project in Marden is right up that street.

I am encouraged about the proposed smooth transition as it is phased in between 2021 and 2027 and that the Government will co-operate closely with farmers, to design and trial the new system.

At last, plans for a seasonal worker programme have also been announced which is vital for so many of our Kent fruit growers. It starts as a pilot programme, but this is a good step in the right direction and I remain fully committed to working all of this through with our farmers, here in Maidstone and the Weald, in the weeks and months to come.

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