British fruit and vegetable growers cut planting in 2022 after an unprecedented labor shortage led to widespread waste of produce and hundreds of tonnes of crops, from broccoli to raspberries, rotted in the fields. increase.
Farmers say Pilot visa scheme Introduced to accept seasonal workers after Brexit was inadequate, but widespread labor shortages attracted pickers with the right to work in the UK to other sectors.
Currently, producers are planning to reduce yields next year and expect the rest to be supplemented by imports. Tom Bradshaw, Vice President of the National Farmers’ Union, said:
According to official data, imports accounted for about 84% of UK fruits and 44% of vegetable consumption in 2020.
Jon Rix of Kent’s Kelsey Farms predicts that his business will lose about 50 tonnes of raspberries (5% of the crop) due to labor shortages at the time of harvest in 2021, in addition to losses due to extreme weather. Said.
He said the farm had about 260 pickers this year compared to 300 a year ago, and workers are far less experienced than those who returned each year before.
“We’re really struggling with the cost of picking, and we’ve come to the point where it’s cheaper to actually pull out the field than to bring in a new slow picker,” he said. “I won’t make any money this year … I’m sitting at my desk holding my head to exercise next year. We’ll try to keep growth down and spread the crop better.”
Justin Emery, director of Fruitful Jobs, one of the four labor institutions that can bring workers under the scheme, said: There are not enough placements in 2022.
“Growers are reducing the size of their crops, especially in Scotland. Some growers have pulled out strawberries completely. Kent has raspberry growers who have uprooted their crops and no longer plant them.”
Iain Brown of Fife’s Eastern Grangemuir farm, part of the East of Scotland Growers Cooperative, said he would plant 15% less fruit and vegetables next year “just to stabilize the situation.”
He said that all the other producers of 20 strong co-operatives specializing in broccoli and cauliflower were reducing crops while the two were considering pulling out the vegetables completely. “This is completely out of the control of the producer,” he added.
The East of Scotland Growers suffered from a shortage of logistics workers and pickers, and a week’s production for frozen sales wasted because it couldn’t be shipped to a refrigerated warehouse.
Julian Marks, managing director of Bognor Regis-based vegetable expert Barfoots of Botley, said that after wasting at least one-fifth of the 3,000 tonnes of zucchini in 2021, everything that needs to be harvested manually. He said he was considering the crops of.
Marks also anticipates further food inflation. “Prices of produce at the farm gates have to go up,” he said.
According to producers, rising wages and tariffs per harvest, as well as higher overtime pay, have forced overseas pickers to make more money than expected and then return home before the end of the season. This means that even farms with enough workers suffer from rising costs for hiring and paying.
For decades, UK farms, like other European farms, hired seasonal workers from poor EU countries, allowing pickers to work in the UK under free movement. When Brexit terminated its right to work in the country, the pilot scheme for seasonal worker visas was expanded to 10,000 to 30,000 locations in 2021.
This brought together workers from Nepal, Barbados, Ukraine, the most popular country of origin, and other former Soviet countries.
Farmers and recruiters want confirmation that the plan will be permanent and said the scale needs to be doubled. According to an NFU survey, recruitment in July was 34.5 percent below the unprecedented gap of vacancies that needed to be filled.
Emery said edible horticulture alone would require 50,000 to 60,000 workers per harvest, but other sectors such as flower cultivation and poultry production would like to participate in the plan. There is.
Producers wanted EU workers with UK-settled or pre-settled status to return this year. However, they also have the option of working in other EU countries, such as Germany, where free movement remains. Meanwhile, the broader UK labor crisis has drawn some former agricultural workers into the sector from trucking to hospitality.
Nick Marston, chairman of the British Summer Fruits industry group, said:
The Ministry of Home Affairs said: “We work closely with the industry to understand labor supply and demand, including permanent and seasonal workforce requirements, and encourage employers to make long-term investments in the UK’s domestic workforce and automation technology. “
Bradshaw said the issue was “involved in politics” because the minister sees Brexit as an obligation to prioritize British workers. But as labor shortages grow, local workers are looking for permanent jobs rather than seasonal jobs, Marion, managing director of Hulow Farm, which grows soft fruits in Kent. Regan said.
“You don’t necessarily have to travel an hour from an urban area to a rural area to start working outdoors at 5 am,” she added.
Ali Capper, chair of the NFU’s Gardening and Potato Commission, said there was a small amount of waste in the last few years, but “I didn’t know that this way. It’s usually the end of the season. It’s a little soft fruit .. .. Now it’s widespread.
“If the government allows this to continue at the end of the year or early next year, there will be major structural changes in the sector and production will decline,” she said.
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