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Soaring farm costs overshadow excellent crops

UK growers are enjoying an excellent start to the spring season, but anxiety is mounting over rising costs and labour shortages.

Homegrown asparagus, artichokes, fennel, and soft fruits like blueberries and strawberries will be in bountiful supply as stable weather conditions have been kind to growers.

This has brought some much need positivity to the community who are increasingly anxious and stressed over mounting costs of labour and diesel, and shortages of pickers due to Brexit.

Organic veg box company Riverford's crop forecaster Hannah Croft said: “European pickers are finding it hard to come over.”

“It’s all related to Brexit,” she said.

“The process to come to the UK is becoming more and more difficult, and pickers have opted to go to places like Germany instead,” Croft added.

The shortage of labour has pushed up wages as farms compete to hire pickers, and soaring diesel prices have added to farmers' financial worries.

Finding red diesel, a lower-priced fuel that is restricted to lorries and tractors, has become so hard that one grower filled his tractor with full-priced fuel at the petrol station.

These financial pressures are impacting the mental health of growers and could worsen over the busy summer period according to Croft.

“Stress surrounding business costs is at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” said Croft.

“It’s worrying for them because there’s no sign of it settling down and it seems like there’s nothing in place from the government to support them,” explained Croft.

The organic veg box company are growing increasingly concerned about the levels of stress and anxiety among farmers that they are planning to set up a support network to help them connect with each other and share solutions.

Despite these challenges, growers are grateful that there has been a good start to the spring and summer season and morale has been boosted by good crop conditions.

“We’ve got a really early variety of asparagus, Xenolim, that is harvesting 10 days ahead of anything else,” said grower Clive Martin from Bedlam farms in the Cambridgeshire Fens. “It’s producing quite well.”

“The warmer it is, the faster the asparagus grow,” said Martin. “The key is the night-time temperature.”

“We cover our asparagus with a biodegradable film and that will heat the asparagus up,” explained Martin. “Although it’s been cold, it’s been sunny, so it’s been warming the row up and growing well.”

“Generally, it’s all positive on the growing side,” Croft said.

“Growers are just grateful that there hasn’t been a beast from the east,” she added.

“Last year we were nine weeks late on our spring crops and this year we are right on time.”

High winds have helped to reduce disease and damp conditions, and this has been particularly welcomed by organic growers who have no access to chemical pesticides.

“The crops are really clean,” concluded Croft.


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