‘The anxiety is off the scale’: UK farm sector worried by labour shortages

On a fruit farm in Herefordshire, unpicked blueberries are rotting on the bushes. The fruit is ripe and ready for harvesting, but there are not enough workers to pick it.

This is the reality of the shortage in seasonal agricultural workers at Withers Farm near Ledbury, where Nick Leeds tends a mix of crops across 300 acres with his father and brother.

“We go through all the winter, it takes a long time pruning, spraying, all the husbandry work and then you can’t pick them, they just sit there and rot essentially,” Leeds said.

He is missing about a quarter of his seasonal workforce of 350 pickers, and predicts as much of half of their blueberry crop will got to waste this year, resulting in a £100,000 loss for the business.

Most of the farm’s seasonal workers usually come from the EU, particularly Romania and Bulgaria.

Although Leeds has been able to recruit some pickers who can gain permits to come to the UK through the government’s seasonal workers pilot scheme, he blames Brexi for this year’s staff shortages.

“We used to have a good rate of returnees, from Romania and Bulgaria. But there are other opportunities out there now, we are hearing some of them are in France or are going to other places,” Leeds said.

“We keep going back to our returnees, but they don’t want to come at the moment, we have been to our agency but they can’t get any more people in from Ukraine. We are looking at ways of reducing the need for labour,” Leeds said.

Reports of unpicked fruit and vegetables are coming from up and down the country, according to Tom Bradshaw, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

“Earlier in July we know Barfoots [a farming company] on the south coast near Chichester had courgettes they couldn’t harvest because they didn’t have enough labour. There is a pepper grower down there who could only pick their peppers every 11 days instead of every three because of labour shortages,”그는 말했다.

It’s not just crops that are affected, but animals too, Bradshaw added.

“We’ve got big issues with pigs backing up on farm because slaughterhouses are only operating four days a week because they haven’t got enough butchers to process the pork. We’ve got dairy farmers that are really struggling to recruit the workforce they need, in Wales and in Bath,” Bradshaw said.

Labour shortages are not just making themselves felt in the food supply chain, but elsewhere in the consumer economy, from lack of availability of new cars, to toy retailers urging parents to buy Christmas presents now to avoid disappointment because of stock shortages.

Retailers and logistics firms have been warning for some time of a shortage of about 100,000 lorry drivers, critical for moving goods around the country, as a result of Covid and Brexit.

그 동안에, Britain’s meat processing industry, which is two-thirds staffed by non-UK workers, is currently missing about 14,000 people out of a total of 95,000 employed in the sector.

If the situation does not improve during the labour-intensive period in the run-up to Christmas, when more workers are hired, the industry could end up being short of 25,000 노동자, according to Nick Allen, chief executive of industry body, the British Meat Processors Association.

According to official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), total UK employment has fallen by about 2% since end of 2019 to end of June 2021, from almost 33m to 32.3m.

그 동안에, the number of EU nationals in employment in the UK fell by almost 5% from 2.3m to 2.2m over the same period. This was led by declines in Romanian and Bulgarian workers – their numbers dropped 24% ...에서 367,000 to about 278,000.

Over the period there was a fall of more than 100,000 workers from the eastern EU8 countries (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) – down 12% ...에서 931,000 ...에 823,000.

Employers believe the official statistics mask a much greater fall in seasonal workers, because those who came in the years before Brexit did not all leave a papertrail – there were no permits needed for EU nationals.

지금, seasonal workers must apply for a permit through the government’s pilot scheme, which is open to the world, and not limited to EU nationals.

The government expanded the number of permits available through the pilot from 10,000 에 2020 ...에 30,000 this year, while also doubling the number of licensed operators who are able to bring seasonal workers to the UK from two to four.

하나, farmers complain that the tender process for the two additional licensed operators – who recruit workers and arrange permits – was concluded too late, in May, meaning these firms could only begin bringing workers to the UK in July, once the harvest was well under way.

And the scheme is reserved for horticultural workers – it does not address the shortage in lorry drivers, factories or warehouses.

On the Herefordshire and Worcestershire border, Ali Capper, a farmer and chair of trade association English Apples and Pears is preparing for the start of apple harvest.

“The anxiety levels in the sector are off the scale,” Capper said.

She fears a lasting impact.

“Growers are talking about not growing crop or investing in the sector next year. What we need from the government is a permanent scheme and the number of permits to be expanded significantly beyond the 30,000, and it must be opened up to ornamentals, at the moment flowers and plants are not included”.

정부 대변인이 말했다.: “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system. Employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad”.

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