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'Without people, we simply can't harvest our crops.' Tonnes of food unpicked due to worker shortage

A dramatic shortage in the number of workers on British farms has left tonnes of food unpicked, the agriculture industry has warned.

Decreasing seasonal work visas granted by the Home Office, delays in processing them, and a significant fall in the number of Ukrainian workers coming to the UK following Russia’s invasion has all resulted farms losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in their harvests.

Derek Wilkinson, managing director of Sandfield Farms, part of the G’s fresh produce group, said labour shortages had cost around £250,000 of his asparagus and spring onion crop farmed in Worcestershire.

“If we haven’t got the people we simply can’t harvest the crop,” he said. “We try to recruit locally and there just aren’t the people out there.

“British people just don’t want seasonal work, if you live in the UK you need a permanent job. We do try to recruit but we’d get very little uptake.

Mr Wilkinson told Sky News that some visas were taking six to seven weeks to process, whereas farm directors in Holland and Germany were seeing visas processed in just a few days.

The delays left him 40 per cent short of staff in the beginning of May, which lost the company 40 to 45,000 kilograms of aparagus that have a value of approximately £150,000.

The Home Office plans to cut the amount of seasonal worker visas in 2023 before scrapping the scheme completely in 224 ad they aim to fill the gap with domestic workers and fruit picking robots.

Tom Bradshaw, deputy president of the NFU feels this is unrealistic and told Sky News: “We have a very low level of unemployment, we have 4% unemployed and millions of vacancies so it is unrealistic for it to be delivered from the domestic workforce when there are plenty of permanent roles.”

The Home Office insisted seasonal worker visas have not been delayed, and are being processed within the “service standard” of eight weeks.


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