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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Labour crisis leaves £60m of food to rot in fields

Fruit and vegetable crops worth more than £22 million have perished this year because the labour crisis left them rotting in fields, a National Farmers’ Union survey has revealed.

The NFU said 40 percent of respondents to its survey of members reported crop losses as a result of labour shortages, with farms 14 percent down on the average workforce required. The problems were exacerbated by staff absences or workers quitting early. As its survey represents approximately one third of the UK’s horticulture sector, the NFU estimates £60 million of food could have been wasted so far in 2022.

NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw, said: “It’s nothing short of a travesty that quality, nutritious food is being wasted at a time when families across the country are already struggling to make ends meet because of soaring living costs.

“At the same time, the prolonged dry weather and record temperatures have created a really challenging growing environment for our fruit and veg. Every crop is valuable – to the farm business and to the people whose plates they fill. We simply can’t afford to be leaving food unpicked.”

More than half of those questioned (56 percent) said production had plummeted  by almost a fifth on average because of the worker shortages.

Growers also vented their frustration over the lack of seasonal workers being granted entry into the UK: Despite the government’s National Food Strategy pledge to expand the nation’s horticultural sector, the number of visas offered through the 2022 Seasonal Worker scheme falls way short of what the industry needs.

This year 38,000 visas were made available. The NFU insists the sector requires 70,000 workers.

“This survey has demonstrated just how crucial it is for fruit and veg growers to have access to the workforce they need,” Mr Bradshaw said.

“Expanding the Seasonal Worker scheme will play a vital role in enabling that access and ensuring we don’t see this devastating level of food waste next year.”



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