Farmers cut food production after labor shortage causes ‘unprecedented’ waste

British farmers are being forced to cut production next year due to a massive labor shortage that has resulted in an ‘unprecedented’ amount of food being landfilled in 2021.

The food supply crisis is expected to come at a time when imports of products from the EU are under increased pressure due to the introduction of a wave of border checks and controls that have been postponed several times after Brexit.

Buyers are advised to be prepared for more empty shelves and significant food price inflation as UK production declines and more products are imported, increasing the country’s carbon footprint.

The desperate labor shortage adds to a growing list of problems for UK farmers who also face soaring costs of shipping, energy and fertilizer as supermarkets battle for keep prices low as they compete for market share with discount chains.

Producers say they have been forced to throw away millions of pounds of produce, including blueberries, raspberries, apples, salad leaves, tomatoes and flowers.

A UK salad producer reported that around £ 1million of premium salad greens – a third of his annual harvest – had been used to make “very expensive manure” as food processing factories failed. were insufficiently staffed.

Food processors have been hit even harder than farmers by declining headcount as post-Brexit immigration rules mean they are not eligible to hire workers with seasonal worker visas to replace those who have left the UK.

Food industry executives have warned the situation will almost certainly get worse unless the government urgently extends a pilot program that authorized 30,000 temporary workers this year. The National Farmers Union calls on ministers to allow at least 50,000 other foreign workers to pick the crops, and tens of thousands more to process them.

Action is needed now, the NFU said, as farmers are making decisions about what to plant for next year and cannot afford to plant crops that will be wasted.

It is now estimated that the food industry as a whole needs half a million more workers to plant and harvest food, package and process it, and deliver it to retailers, restaurants and homes.

A survey by the NFU found that fruit and vegetable growers had 34% fewer workers than they needed at the height of the harvest season in July and August.

In a worrying first indication of what’s to come in 2022, one of the UK’s biggest daffodil suppliers has already chosen to dump 300 tonnes of bulbs in the landfill, fearing they won’t have the workers to pick them up at the landfill. spring.

While ministers have argued that Brexit offers an opportunity to create a ‘highly skilled and well-paid economy’, fruit and vegetable growers point out that in horticulture such a vision is far from becoming a reality.

According to Ali Capper, apple grower and president of the NFU Horticultural Council. In the meantime, it is feared that a large number of agricultural enterprises will cease to exist.

“Companies report labor shortages between 15 and 40 percent. When it’s 15 percent, everyone rolls up their sleeves and works harder. At 40, all you have to do is walk through and let the produce rot in the fields. You have no choice, ”said Ms Capper, who grows apples and hops at Stocks Farm in Kent.

“There has been an unprecedented amount of food waste.

There has been an unprecedented amount of food waste … we don’t know where our work will come from next year

Ali Capper, apple grower

“A quarter of this country’s iconic daffodil harvest has been wasted this year because we cannot harvest the harvest. I already know a large daffodil grower, who is due to plant now for January and February, has landed 300 tonnes of bulbs because he can’t risk planting a crop he won’t be able to pick.

“The same is happening in the edibles sector because there is a total lack of confidence. We don’t know where our work will come from next year.

Farmers believe the government’s mismanagement of the post-Brexit transition risks causing long-term damage to UK food supplies, with some producers having already decided to shut down their businesses.

The labor shortage is expected to worsen as the number of European workers with UK established status declines, further depleting a near-empty labor pool.

According to the NFU estimate, around half of non-UK citizens eligible for settlement status have decided not to stay and work in the UK. One reason is that the Home Office required workers to present their passport or worker card with their visa application, which many temporary workers were unwilling to do.

Nick Ottewell, farm manager at LJ Betts, one of the UK’s biggest salad producers, has estimated he will need to cut production by 10% next year.

Half of the company’s products are packaged, branded and sold through retailers such as convenience stores. This part of the business has resisted because LJ Betts has access to seasonal workers who do 40 percent of the jobs on the farm.

The other half of the company’s produce is sent to a large processing plant that washes and chops the salad for sale at big chains such as Tesco, Aldi and McDonald’s.

“This supply chain is completely dysfunctional,” Mr. Ottewell said. “It was a complete car accident.

This supply chain is completely dysfunctional … it’s been a complete car crash

Nick Ottewell, farm manager

“They don’t have access to the seasonal worker program because the plant operates 12 months a year, washes and chops, brings salad wherever she can bring it year-round.

“It’s not a seasonal business like ours, so they can’t access visas, they can only hire permanent staff.”

In mid-July, she stopped processing supermarket orders because she did not have staff. The company bought 70 percent of what Mr. Ottewell had planned. “The best part about a million pounds of product they haven’t bought. It was used to make very expensive green manure.

LJ Betts is currently in discussions with the transformation company about how they can make things better next year, but Mr Ottewell said he was not optimistic.

“At the moment I don’t see how it is improving, I can only see how it is getting worse for them,” he added. “Their only real access to labor is through migrant workers with a pre-established or established status.

“It’s a finite number that’s going to decrease every year because a percentage of those people don’t come back and they can’t be replaced.”

Food processing companies are “frantically” trying to find ways to automate, Mr Ottewell said. “They spend millions on it, but social dynamics are changing faster than automation technology.”

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