Fruit and veg growers plead for help as labour crisis bites

Fruit and veg growers sent out a stark warning to the government that the system is broken as they battle to recruit thousands of workers and face soaring costs.

The National Farmers Union used the Great Yorkshire Show to talk about their fears for the future. They're calling for a more joined-up approach from government to achieve the 'grand ambitions' laid out by them to create a world leading horticulture strategy.

Yorkshire carrot grower Guy Poskitt, chair of the farmers unions horticulture board said the industry is a good news story, delivering 25 per cent of the national agricultural output and employing over 100,000 full time and seasonal workers contributing over £3bn to the nations GDP.

Mr Poskett warned: "However, as of now, 200 growers in Yorkshire alone are struggling to keep their heads above water in the face of soaring costs of production coupled with continuing labour shortages.

"We very much welcome the government's acknowledgement of the importance of home-grown food production, but it is frustrating that, at the same time, other policies continue to deny growers access to the workers they need today as well as the investment needed to drive growth for tomorrow." He said British horticulture receives very little government funding and has this season reported worker shortages topping 40 per cent, with some growers of tomatoes and cucumbers cutting back on crops grown because they don't have the staff or can't make a return in the face of mounting costs.

He added: "From our perspective, the system is broken. We are still desperate for staff, with significant delays in accessing the government's Seasonal Worker Scheme, which continues to offer far fewer workers than the estimated 70,000 needed.

"And in terms of support for investment in automation and robotic technologies, needed to reduce our reliance on seasonal workers, the sector has struggled in the past to access government schemes and those that are available are so stringent in their rules, regulations and timescales as to make them almost impossible to navigate. "In other countries we see massive government support for their horticultural sectors. Here, there is talk about the potential to grow more and the opportunity for more glasshouse production to replace imported product and increase our food security, but with no thought as to where this level of investment will come from especially in a sector where margins are tiny and risk levels are huge."

Mr Poskitt said the government needs to "join the dots" and work with growers to address short and long-term challenges.

"Everyone I know in horticulture has put everything they have into their businesses and pride themselves on providing the finest fresh produce from staples like peas, potatoes, onions and carrots to local specialities such as indoor winter rhubarb and an array of summer berries," he said.

"We have huge potential to help meet a number of white paper targets including halving childhood obesity by 2030 and can help increase our national food security by growing more fresh fruit and vegetables, but not without a coherent plan.

"Locally, grower confidence is at a very low ebb. Many are wondering if they would sleep better at night growing wheat instead. We really need to see government commit to helping us survive today and plan for a healthy tomorrow."

Source: The Northern Farmer