Farmers to slash food production after worker shortage causes ‘unprecedented’ waste

British farmers are being forced to slash production next year because of a massive shortfall in workers that has caused an “unprecedented” amount of food to be thrown into landfill in 2021.

The food supply crunch is set to come at a time when imports of produce from the EU are under increased strain due to the introduction of a wave of border controls and checks which have been repeatedly postponed after Brexit.

Shoppers are being advised to brace for more empty shelves and significant food price inflation as UK production falls and more goods are imported, increasing the country’s carbon footprint.

The desperate shortage of labour adds to a growing list of problems for UK farmers who are also dealing with soaring costs for shipping, energy and fertiliser while supermarkets battle to keep prices down as they vie for market share with discount chains.

Growers say they have been forced to throw away millions of pounds of produce, including blueberries, raspberries, apples, salad leaves, tomatoes and flowers.

One British salad grower reported that around £1m of premium salad leaves – a third of their annual crop – had been used to make “very expensive manure” because food processing plants do not have enough staff.

Food processing companies have been hit even harder than farmers by a fall in staff numbers because post-Brexit immigration rules mean they are not eligible to hire workers on seasonal worker visas to replace those that have left the UK.

Food industry leaders warned that the situation is almost certain to worsen unless the government urgently extends a pilot scheme which allowed in 30,000 temporary workers this year. The National Farmers’ Union is calling on ministers to allow in at least another 50,000 foreign workers to pick crops, and tens of thousands more to process them.

Action is needed now, the NFU said, because farmers are currently making decisions about what to plant for next year and cannot afford to plant crops that will go to waste.

The Fresh Produce Consortium (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,” says FPC Chief Executive, Nigel Jenney.

“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.

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 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.

To register at FPC Future click here.

To register at FPC Careers click here.

Edited from original copy in The Independent