Esther McVey is calling for Government to help future-proof British farming and provide extra support to the industry given the role it plays in UK food security.
The Tatton MP said the pandemic, cost of living crisis and the conflict in Ukraine had made food security more important than ever, and there was more Government needed to do, in particular to help local farmers.
Speaking in Parliament during a debate she secured, she praised the work of Tatton’s farmers and called for action on issues ranging from rising costs, staff shortages, seasonal workers visas and food labelling, before setting out examples of excellence across the constituency including The Lambing Shed Farm Shop and Kitchen, Delamere Dairy, The Cheshire Smokehouse, Bexton Cheese, The Mobberley Ice Cream Company, Great Budworth Real Dairy Ice Cream Farm and Seven Sisters Ice cream.
Ms McVey spoke of the huge energy price increases farmers are facing, of up to 400 per cent, fertiliser cost increases of above 150 per cent and red diesel increases, coupled with staff shortages the industry face. She proposed tackling the labour shortage by increasing seasonal visas from 30,000 to 50,000 with immediate effect.
She spoke of how increased costs meant some farms produced less because the cost of production was not recovered through higher prices, as farmers were aware of passing on higher costs.
Ms McVey added: “Tatton farmers and producers are hard-working, dedicated to the sector, industrious and experts in their field, with many generations of experience and they want to help solve the food security issues that this country is facing.”
Ms McVey told MPs of multiple examples of excellence including the family business APS Group based in Alderley Edge. This company is developing robotic technology to assist with tomato production, from planting to packaging, to tackle future labour shortages. They are also making compostable packaging which can be used for both food and other sectors, and the company has developed a combined heat and power plant which supplies 3MW of power to Alderley Edge and uses the waste heat and the carbon dioxide from that to grow their crop. She urged Government to look at ways of incentivising British businesses such as these.
Ms McVey also called for greater clarity on food labelling.
She added: “Buying British and locally, for me that means buying from Cheshire, it is important not just because of the high husbandry standards of UK food but the low transport mileage to get from field to fork.
“As my beef and sheep farmers say, it is better to have high-quality beef and lamb from Cheshire than chickpeas from halfway around the world.”
Ms McVey asked the minister to write to her setting out in detail how Government plans to support the industry.