Vegetable pickers have seen their salaries soar to almost £20 an hour thanks to a chronic labour shortage brought on by Brexit and Covid-19.
Both seismic events have been blamed for deterring thousands of immigrants from arriving and carrying out the roles, which Brits simply aren’t applying for.
Roughly 500,000 workers are needed to fill positions across the food supply chain, from pickers and packers to processors and drivers.
One agriculture boss has even suggested having the army on standby to help deliver food and stop supermarket shelves from being left bare.
It comes as the steep increase in wages is expected to be passed onto the customer.
In an email to customers, Simon Naylor, of Naylor Farms in Lincolnshire, said: ‘To keep people we have raised wages by 60% to nearly £20 per hour for packhouse staff and from this week we are having to pay them to turn up at £20 a day for a weekday and £30 for weekends.
‘This now is unsustainable.’
He added: ‘Yes a lot of us voted out [on Brexit] and now we have this problem!!!’
The family farm is the UK’s largest grower of cabbages and has been operating for 112 years.
It turns over more than £26 million on average each year.
And although the government has put in place a special visa programme to let in extra agricultural workers from the EU and Ukraine, Mr Naylor says it is not enough.
He said the scheme will not work because those workers must be recruited on the basis they are skilled and will be earning a minimum of £25,000.
The situation is seen as so alarming by the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) that it has suggested the government have the army on standby to help deliver food.
Its chief executive, James Bielby, said: ‘We are concerned enough to suggest that the Government considers having Army trucks on standby to ensure there are enough vehicles and drivers to distribute food.
‘The product manufacturers who supply into the wholesale channel have similar issues with drivers, and our members report particular difficulties getting soft drinks, beer, and chilled products like cream, cheese, yoghurt and meats.’
Twitter users have already complained of empty shelves at their supermarkets.
‘The shortage is already there,’ said one user, ‘It’s scary, Brexit is to blame.’
Others supported the pay increases, suggesting that more money should be offered to attract more workers.
‘Perhaps James and his members need to pay drivers more money to attract them into the industry,’ wrote one, ‘now they haven’t the luxury of unlimited cheap Eastern European migrants.’