Farming and horticulture are hugely important industries to our local economy and shape much of our local environment. As it stands today the fresh food industry is worth £1 billion to the Chichester economy so ensuring the industry thrives is really important for us all.
As we leave the EU, we are also leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), that has governed the industry for nearly half a decade, so, understandably, farmers have a question or two about the new system. I joined a West Sussex farmers conference arranged by the National Farmers Union, which brought together farmers and growers from across the whole county, with myself and the other West Sussex MPs.
It was a fantastic way to cover huge amounts of ground, whilst ensuring we, as MPs, have a shared understanding of the issues and can sing from the same hymn sheet. The day kicked off with a very soggy tractor ride to a barn where the conference was held. It was a nice idea, but those of us who braved the trip spent the subsequent hours in various stages from wet to damp, something that continued into my evening surgery.
At the conference, we discussed important legislation such as the Agriculture Bill in detail. Generally, the Government is focused on protecting the environment and improving the wider public benefit of the countryside. However, as is always the case when moving from one regime to another there are some teething problems which we have taken back to Parliament with us.
A huge concern, particularly for our area, is access to labour. As free movement ends local businesses that rely on seasonal workers will struggle to get enough people in to do the job. I know the Government are listening as previously we have extended the seasonal workers pilot scheme. It is vital we have the workers we need with the right skills and I will work with colleagues to press this point.
There was a lot of discussion on the innovative work of cluster farms. This is where farmers are working collaboratively together to improve the environment. There are projects to boost biodiversity for both plants and animals, improve soil quality as well as working with water companies to improve the water quality and reduce flood risk through natural interventions.
In West Sussex farming is a crucial part of our way of life; shaping how our communities look and feel. Farmers are the custodians of our countryside, and I believe deserve our support, including to win the fight against rural crime which we are working to improve. If you want to stay up to date with my work in this area visit my website. www.gilliankeegan.com/campaigns/supporting-our-rural-and-coastal-communities