Added costs take big bite out of east Suffolk vegetable farmer's bottom line

With the help of the government's new seasonal labour scheme, organic vegetable grower James Foskett has managed to pull together a 105-strong team to bring in this year's harvest.

They are hard at work on his carrot, radish, beetroot and potato crops - which are looking good. In the aftermath of Brexit, labour has been a big headache for large-scale growers like James - and it's a relief to find the workforce so that the vegetables aren't left to rot in the fields.

The problem is that the exercise overall is costing the Woodbridge farmer a fortune - and while cereal prices have soared in the wake of the war in Ukraine, demand for vegetables like potatoes and carrots isn't where it might be - which is having a knock-on effect on his profits.

Meanwhile his input and wage costs have gone through the roof.

James farms 3500 acres of land in the Deben Valley. Under the new government scheme to address what was an acute shortage of labour in the food and farming sector, his seasonal workers - who are coming from countries including Moldova, Bulgaria, Romanians and Uzbekistan - are costing £10.10 an hour, compared to the national minimum wage of £9.50.

He has to stump a further £360 each for visa and other costs to pay for their maximum six month stay. He has also bumped up the wage of his permanent workforce to keep pace.

To replenish his workforce during the Christmas season he'll need to repeat this new visa process and eat the added costs.

The money goes to Pro-Force, one of the seasonal labour recruitment companies tasked by the government with gathering a seasonal farm workforce in the post-Brexit world. At the same time, supermarkets are competing with each other to offer the lowest vegetable prices they can.

"To be fair, we have got a full complement. We have got 105 people at the moment - which is great - but they are costing us a fortune. We have got that, we have got the fertiliser increase. All our regular tractor drivers have got a pay increase as we do every year.

"But fuel is absolutely crippling at the moment. You can imagine - a big tractor uses 50 to 60 litres an hour," says James, who also grows a range of other crops - including such as onions, sugar beet, maize, vining peas, sweetcorn, green beans and cereals.

"It costs £75 an hour to run a big tractor. We are having to cope with all these things."

Source: East Anglian Daily Times