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'Catastrophic’ food waste due to labour shortage, UK farmers warn

A survey of British Berry Growers’ members has revealed that annual waste that could solely attributed to a lack of access to pickers has almost doubled from 2020 to 2021, from £18.7mn to £36.5mn.

And Nick Marston, chair of British Berry Growers says the total will “double again this year”.

“It will be more not less as a direct consequence of the restricted supply of labour, as a direct consequence of government policy on immigration,” he said.

Ali Capper, executive chair of British Apples and Pears and former chair of the National Farmers’ Union horticulture and potatoes board, said one grower reportedly had not been able to harvest 2mn iceberg lettuces because there were not enough people to pick them.

“In May, we have had some catastrophic food waste across crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, iceberg lettuces, salad and asparagus,” she said.

We’ve got major shortages at the start of the season and I’ve never seen anything like that before,” she added.

The new chair of the NFU horticulture and potatoes board, Martin Emmett, has advised the government to provide adequate advance notice for the 2023 allocation of seasonal worker visas, after this year’s quota was announced on Christmas Eve.

“That is too late for horticultural businesses to make sensible business decisions so it’s really imperative that the industry is advised and aware of what will be available next year as soon as possible.”

Farming minister, Victoria Prentis, responded by saying: “Labour shortages are affecting countries around the world. To support our farmers, we have already boosted the number of visas available through the seasonal workers route to 40,000.

“We have extended the scheme to include poultry and ornamental horticulture, we ran an automation review which will be published this summer, and we are working to encourage people to take up jobs in the farming sector.”


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