Labour shortages leave food rotting in fields

There have been plenty of warnings, but new data released by the National Farmers Union shows that the vote the leave the European Union has left fruit and vegetable farmers woefully short of workers.

More than 4,300 vacancies went unfilled, according to an NFU survey seen by the Guardian, leaving some food rotting in fields and producers suffering “big losses”.

The figures, also available in detail as part of written evidence submitted by the NFU to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee last month, show that the sector experienced its lowest annual returnee rate since 2014 – just 29% of workers had worked a previous season.

The NFU said its findings show that the availability of seasonal labour is “tightening and is predicted to worsen in 2018”. In order to prevent “significant supply chain disruption” this year, the government could establish a “SAWS” (seasonal agricultural workers) type scheme to enable recruitment of non-EU seasonal labour for the 2018 season, the NFU said.

“Growers are wondering how they are going to get through the [2018] season,” Alison Capper, chair of the NFU’s horticulture board, told the Guardian. “There is an element of desperation.”

Capper said numerous farms had been forced to leave produce to rot due to lack of labour,. However, producers have not publicised the problems for fear of undermining the confidence of their supermarket customers.

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