New Farming Minister Victoria Prentis writes exclusively for Farmers Guardian on why she’s so excited to work at Defra.
As we embark upon the biggest transformation of British farming in nearly 40 years, it is truly a privilege to be appointed as the new Farming Minister.
The decisions we will make over the coming months will shape our countryside for generations to come, and I can’t think of a more exciting – or more critical – time to be joining Defra.
As a farmer’s daughter myself, I know how hard farmers work to care for our land and wildlife.
I look forward to steering the Government’s Agriculture Bill through Parliament and moving us towards a new system which rewards them for their work to safeguard the environment and help us meet our vital climate change goals.
But I also know how hard our farmers work to ensure we have an abundance of healthy, home-grown British produce on dinner tables.
Like Defra’s new Secretary of State, George Eustice, I grew up on a fruit farm myself and saw first-hand the pressures farmers can face to bring in the spring and summer harvests.
We are both acutely aware that labour from abroad often plays an important role in helping to alleviate worker shortages to pick and gather the UK harvest.
I’m therefore delighted to confirm in my first week on the job that we are quadrupling the number of workers farms can recruit this year from outside of the EU on a temporary basis to take up seasonal work.
This announcement delivers on the commitment set out in the Government manifesto and comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel set out plans for a new points-based immigration system, which will deliver for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Defra launched the pilot with the Home Office last year to test a new way to specifically support the edible horticulture sector during peak production periods.
At a time when soft fruit production is a particular success story in the UK in recent years – growing by 185 per cent between 1998 and 2018 – this sector was chosen to host the Pilot so all hands are on deck when the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked.
But we want to keep testing how this pilot operates further.
That’s why for 2020 we’re increasing the available labour from 2,500 to 10,000, helping to ease some of the pressure felt on farms when they are at their busiest.
This is a vital industry, and one which deserves the full support of Government to ensure the seeds sown turn into fruits which can be picked, prepared and packed for us all to enjoy.
This is just the beginning, and I look forward to really getting stuck in to delivering what matters to our farmers, land managers and producers.
I’m honoured to join the Defra Secretary – who has long been an advocate for farmers – in championing the agricultural sector’s needs across Government.
This industry plays such a crucial role in protecting our environment, producing our world-renowned British food, and looking after our precious countryside – and I can’t wait to play a part in its continued success.
The Minister can be found tweeting at @VictoriaPrentis