A director of Lincolnshire flower and bulb producer has revealed a recruitment nightmare leading to lost trade because he cannot get the workers he needs from abroad or even locally.
Taylors Bulbs, based in Holbeach, is having to compete with other businesses and sectors to hire forklift drivers, engineers, tractor drivers and experienced administrators.
Staff shortages meant it did not export any daffodil cut flowers to the EU this Spring.
The Government has made 30,000 six-month visas available in 2021 to allow foreign nationals to work in the UK edible horticulture sector which included fruit and vegetable picking.
That is 20,000 more than in 2020 but the problem firms like Taylors face is that the temporary visas do not cover flower pickers or tree-planters from overseas.
Now, the Horticultural Trades Association is demanding the Government extends the seasonal workers' scheme to include those who work in the ornamental sector.
Adam Taylor, director of Taylors Bulbs, said he foresees seasonal labour shortages continuing to be an issue.
He said: "For Taylors, it will continue way past the end of the furlough scheme – unemployment in the geographical area of our farm is low - we can’t move our production elsewhere - and there is a distinct lack of applicants due to the enormous competition from other businesses in the area.
"Some work such as cropping daffodil flowers has previously been fulfilled by people who jump from harvesting edible crops one day to ornamental the next.
"For a mixed agricultural and horticultural business such as ours to be denied the ability to employ the same EU worker to harvest all our crops also impacts on our edible production as well. It’s farcical.”
Taylors Bulbs is a fourth-generation family business, growing and supplying flower bulbs and flowers since 1919.
Its business employs an additional 150 seasonal staff members in the summer with an estimated 10 per cent of those workers typically being EU citizens brought in to work the daffodil bulb and potato harvest from June to November.
It had also previously relied on EU workers from contract labour providers for the daffodil flower harvest each Spring - until the United Kingdom left the EU.
Mr Taylor said: “In the spring, we can have as many as 200 flower croppers if the season is right.
"This March, we had only 25. We had adjusted our aspirations according to the predicted shortages of seasonal workers, but we lost sales.
"For instance, we did not export any cut daffodils to the EU, a big market opportunity lost.
"And, in March, many GB market opportunities such as hotels, restaurants and public buildings were closed and so they were not buying flowers.
"We expect that demand to return in 2022 and we need seasonal horticultural workers to fulfil it.
"This year has taught us that British people are not attracted to this type of work.
“In the summer months, 90 per cent of our seasonal workers have been British and local.
"As well as being unable to employ the 10 per cent from the EU because the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme does not allow us to do so for the harvest of ornamental horticulture, the British workers are now in huge demand from local businesses that previously employed far more EU workers than we ever did.”
Mr Taylor added that like many horticultural businesses in the UK, Taylors had struggled with finding the number of employees to suit its needs.
He said: “It’s bloody hard - we interview everyone who applies.
"One Monday, we interviewed three candidates who applied over the previous weekend – one then said he wasn’t available for two weeks anyway, another said no because the work from Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm was too many hours, and the third accepted the job but didn’t turn up for work the next morning.
"We just about have enough but asking fewer people to work more hours to cover for the shortage is unsustainable and does not fit in with the culture of our workplace, particularly where we need to attract people to our business.”
Mr Taylor said it had been especially challenging to find workers with specialist skills like tractor and forklift drivers and Covid had compounded the problem.
He said: "People are still not looking to move employers whilst Covid is around.