I spend a good deal of my time talking to local businesses, and therefore hearing about how they are managing in the period of recovery from the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
One specific sector which often has a different set of issues is farming. I met the Ashford NFU recently and as ever it was an interesting conversation. The biggest difference from almost every other type of business was that Covid had barely affected them in their day-to-day business.
Obviously producing food is always an essential business, so everyone involved was a key worker. Equally, working from home is more difficult if you are tending crops or animals than sitting at a keyboard, so the whole sector just kept calm and carried on.
However farming and growing does suffer from many of the same difficulties which are acting as a drag on growth across the board. One of these is a shortage of labour. I agree with many farmers that some kind of seasonal worker scheme will need to be continued, and have made this point to the Immigration Minister.
A more detailed problem is that the current seasonal worker scheme only covers food growing, so the growing and successful nursery sector cannot benefit. This will not help the Government meet its own targets for extra land to be covered by trees and plants.
Farmers have a reputation for always complaining whatever the circumstances—a reputation they are often happy to laugh about. But there are genuine issues we need to address if we are to continue having a prosperous agricultural sector, while enjoying the environmental benefits of modern, sensitive farming.
Those of us who love the Garden of England know that most of the garden is tended by farmers. This means that they must be able to carry on their business profitably at the same time as protecting the future of our green spaces. I am always happy to help them to do this.