The National Farmers Union says crops will ‘almost certainly’ be lost as a result of worker shortages this year.
A drop in seasonal workers driven by Brexit uncertainty has left daffodil growers struggling to harvest their fields amid warnings crops will “almost certainly” be lost as the year progresses.
The daffodil season, which lasts from January to April, provides around £45 million a year to the UK’s economy.
But growers and the National Farmers Union (NFU) say uncertainty over the value of the pound and the future ability of staff to work in the UK after Brexit has resulted in a significant drop in pickers choosing to come here.
Almost certainly there will be crops lost as a result of these shortages.
National Farmers Union chief horticulture adviser Lee Abbey
Last month Matthew Jarrett, the managing director of agricultural recruitment agency Pro-Force, told the BBC’s Farming Today that a lack of workers had already impacted on daffodil growers.
He said: “We’re at sort of a crisis point and we’re really seeing it on the ground. Unfortunately we’ve seen loss of crop already in 2019 and I think that’s going to be a theme throughout the coming year.”
The NFU’s chief horticulture adviser Lee Abbey said there had been labour shortages of around 12.5% across horticulture, equating to between 8,000 and 10,000 people, “so it’s absolutely significant”.
“In 2018 over half of members experienced shortages and nearly half said they had at least some of their crop lost as a result of not having enough labour. So almost certainly this will be the case again this year, and we anticipating that it will be significantly worse.”
He said recent clarity around a no-deal Brexit scenario on labour movement had come too late for many workers, who would have decided where they would work this season by the end of last year.
And he warned that the Government’s new pilot scheme, announced in September to bring 2,500 seasonal workers to UK farms, “nowhere near scratched the surface of existing shortages” and “ought to be about 10,000”.
Does your farm or food business employ seasonal workers from the EU? EU citizens can continue to come to the UK for work in 2019 and 2020 after the UK leaves the EU: https://t.co/4g6X1FvDA0 #Brexit #businessandbrexit #prepareforEUexit pic.twitter.com/SeoY8wP9Lu
— Defra UK (@DefraGovUK) March 15, 2019
Matthew Naylor, managing director of Naylor’s Flowers, which grows more than 50 million stems of cut flowers in the UK and mainland Europe from its base in Spalding, Lincolnshire, said: “There are lots of factors at play. The uncertainty that we face with leaving the EU is certainly not helping.”
Mr Naylor said the drop in the value of the pound had reduced wages for pickers, while “a few” had gone to work in other European countries “because they know they’ll be able to continue to do so”.
“On the ground, as a British employer, we don’t have the reputation we used to have as a place to better yourself. I don’t think that’s what it was.
“They are skilled people. I would never call this an unskilled job. We have some people earning £1,000 a week. We’re having to work a lot harder with advertising and perks to retain them.”