An Andrew Marr interview with Boris Johnson aired on Sunday, 3 October, revealed a prime minister who Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the UK’s Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) says “has fundamentally failed to understand the importance of our normally seamless food supply chain.”
When questioned about the current labour crisis that is disrupting the supply chain, Johnson reinforced his refusal to turn to migrant labour, saying “the country is going through a “period of adjustment” to a higher-wage economy after Brexit. “The way forward for our country is not to just pull the big lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration.”
Yet the lack of workers has affected every aspect of our lives.
Jenney has today responded, saying: “We are a highly productive, and highly competitive market, driven by consumer expectations of being able to obtain high quality produce at a reasonable price. This system is now seriously under threat.”
“What we’re requesting is that government supports and values the entire food supply chain, through a range of measures including a visa system during this period of transition. There’s no point in having lorry drivers who have nothing to deliver,” he continued.
The current position of the pig industry has amplified the huge pressure there is on the whole supply chain, with Marr pointing out to the prime minister yesterday that the likely destruction of a huge number of pigs would be “the single biggest cull of healthy animals in the history of British agriculture.”
Jenney expressed his frustration, saying: “It’s heart breaking and totally avoidable!
“The fallout from the pandemic, coupled with the many challenges that Brexit has brought about, will continue to affect the supply chain for many months, if not years, unless we can find solutions now,” he added.
“This is beyond the industry’s making, it’s beyond our control. The food industry wants to provide a great service but it needs support to ensure there aren’t empty shelves for many months to come.
“The FPC has worked with its members to develop innovative new solutions for the industry.
“They lie in making agriculture ‘smarter’ by developing and adopting the new technologies and innovations that can dramatically enhance productivity and reduce its high labour demand and by making the various sectors more attractive to a new generation.”
Jenney went on to broach the subject of bringing in much-needed fresh blood to the industry, calling it ‘an elephant in the room’ and re-affirming how the food-growing industry is desperately lacking a new generation of workers.
“FPC has been pro-actively looking at new ways to bridge the disconnect between the next generation of agricultural and horticultural workers and the perception of the industry as a whole.
“We believe we’ve found some solutions,” he explained.
“There needs to be a fundamental shift in the perception and overall infrastructure of our food supply system.
“We believe in educating the industry about how both agriculture and horticulture can be made smarter through the incorporation of technologies such as AI, IoT, robotics and automation, along with the development of new growing systems and practices, all designed to promote long term sustainability,” he continued.
With this in mind, the consortium have developed two unique and ‘free to attend’ industry events.
The new events, both of which will be jointly held at Lincolnshire Showground on 4 November, have been developed in partnership with the University of Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology (LIAT).
They each tackle different challenges faced by the industry in a unique way.
FPC Future has been created to be the agritech event for the fresh produce and flower industry and will house an exhibition, conferences, working displays and tours.
“This much-needed event will educate and showcase all that is new right now, as well as exploring what the future promises,” explained FPC event manager Cristina Melenchon.
“Visitors will be able see how new technologies can help them become more efficient, increase productivity and help their workforce” she added.
The conference programme is an extensive one, with eight conference sessions covering pre and post farm robotics and automation, data driven technologies, plastics and packaging, supply chain waste, carbon supply chains, vertical farming and sustainability.
There will also be a dedicated theatre, where exhibitors can present their latest offerings to a captive audience. This, coupled with the facility for working displays, gives exhibiting companies a unique opportunity to ensure their products and services are seen.
“FPC Future is the perfect platform for companies wishing to showcase their next generation technology and product lines to the growers, packers, importers, exporters, retailers, wholesalers and service providers,” said FPC’s Business Development Manager Linda Bloomfield.
“Innovation will drive the future commercial success of the sector, and this is a great opportunity for those in agritech to take part as an exhibitor in order to showcase their solutions, forge new contacts and ultimately pick up new business,” she added.
FPC Careers has been developed to connect today’s up and coming talent with the food chains’ best employers. Alongside the opportunity to meet face-to face-with representatives from major fresh produce companies and specialised recruitment agencies, industry experts will be available throughout the day to provide attendees with free advice, mentoring and guidance.