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Gloucestershire farmer to cut crops over worker uncertainty

A farmer says he plans to stop growing labour-intensive crops due to uncertainty over whether he can hire seasonal workers in the future.

Martin Haines, who runs WR Haines in Gloucestershire, needs 80 people to pick crops across his farms.

But he is unsure if he will be able to hire them beyond 2024 when the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme ends.

It means UK farmers like him could stop growing produce that needs to be hand-picked, such as peas and beans.

One senior National Farmers' Union (NFU) representative said the sector needed more clarity from the government.

Mr Haines is urging the government to speed up its review into labour shortages in the food supply chain, which is due to be published this year.

He says it is very difficult to make sure workers arrive at the right time.

"The numbers [of staff] we've booked have arrived but under the source scheme they can only come for six months," he said.

Mr Haines said this means he may be short on staff in the autumn.

"We need to know what's going to happen. If we're not going to have the source scheme continuing after December 2024, then we've got to look at just a UK workforce," he added.

Mr Haines says he has not been able to employ local staff, despite trying to.

"We've been working with all the job agencies around the area, and we haven't had anybody [apply] in the last three years," he said.

Mr Haines said he had looked at the option of using machinery to replace labour, and had trialled an automatic planter in the hope it would do the work of eight people.

But he found it needed so many people to operate and maintain the machinery that it was not worth the expense of buying it.

Mel Squires, director of NFU South, said it was difficult for farmers to "plan ahead" and urged the government to enable as much migrant labour to be utilised as possible, alongside recruiting UK workers.

"Just enough [staff] isn't great when you're trying to build resilience into your business," she said.

Failure to recruit UK workers is "not for the lack of trying", she added.

"We've seen lots of examples where farmers and growers are trying to work with their local communities, work with local job centres," she said,

"Long term we've got to find more solutions to help support our domestic food production, which we need to have secure and sustained for the long term."

A government spokesperson said: "Seasonal labour is an integral part of the UK's rural economy, and we continue to support our farmers through the seasonal workers visa route.

"We will continue to support our farmers and growers with the people they need, whilst making improvements to the seasonal workers route to stop exploitation, and will take decisive action against anyone who breaks the rules."


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