Labour Party praised by NFU deputy president Minette Batters for approach to farm labour as Brexit looms
An agricultural leader has praised the Labour Party’s stance on the challenges the industry faces with shortages of farmworkers as a result of Brexit as she addressed Suffolk farmers this week.
National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president Minette Batters, who was guest speaker at the annual general meeting of the Suffolk branch of the NFU, held at Stowmarket on Wednesday, November 15, said the party was talking “very constructively about the labour issue as we see it at the moment”.
“Politically, we live in incredibly uncertain times,” she told delegates as she touched on a wide range of topics, from preparing for Brexit to labour shortages, the growing importance Red Tractor, the current EU stalemate on the use of weedkiller glyphosate, and rural crime including hare coursing and fly-tipping.
As Brexit approached, the NFU was lobbying on the issues of labour, trade and a framework for future farm policy, she explained.
“The Labour Party has come out and said agriculture must be a strategicv priority in any deal,” she said.
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“I think the challenge is that the government believes that this vote for Brexit was on immigration and immigration alone.”
But the farming sector needed about 80,000 people, and the NFU was pressing for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) to be brought back, she said.
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“The Labour Party have re-committed to reintroducing the SAWS scheme,” she added.
Post-Brexit, assurance schemes such as Red Tractor would become increasingly important, and the NFU wanted it to beocme the flagship for British food, she told farmers.
“Red Tractor - this is so critical to our future,” she said. “This is the mechanism for growing our market.”
She added: “We have a great story to tell and as far as I’m concerned British agriculture starts from very solid foundations.”
Mrs Batters criticised how the Basic Payment Scheme, a farm subsidy system, had been implemented, although the department which administers it in the UK, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), had offered assurances that the vast majority of farmers would be paid by next month.
“This has just been a continual car crash,” she said. “The main problem we pick up is a lack of communication.”