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Tens of millions of pounds worth of fruit and vegetables are rotting in UK fields due to lack of labor

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rotten unpicked dried tomatoes photo Shutterstock

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Tens of millions of pounds worth of fruit and vegetables are rotting in Britain’s fields because of a severe labor shortage, British farmers say.

About 22 million pounds ($27 million) of fruit and vegetables were wasted in the first half of the year due to labor shortages, according to a National Farmers Union survey of nearly 200 growers. As the survey represents a third of the horticulture sector, the total figure is likely to exceed £60m at a time when grocery store prices are rising at a near-record pace, according to the NFU, a British farmers’ association.

The results demonstrate the negative impact that labor shortages are having on the food and agriculture sector, resulting in significant crop losses at a time when the country is facing its worst cost of living crisis in generations.

The survey also showed that:

  • 40% of the respondents suffer crop losses as a result of the labor shortage

  • 56% of respondents reported a decrease in production – an average reduction of 19% across enterprises

  • On average for the 2022 season so far, businesses are experiencing a 14% staff shortage (this is based on recruitment and does not take into account the additional effects of early departures)

  • 17% of the recruited workers did not show up

  • 9% of workers left their contract early

  • Producers expect a further decline in production in 2023 of 4.4%

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said: “It is nothing short of a farce that nutritious and quality food is being wasted at a time when families across the country are already struggling to cope due to the rising cost of living.

“At the same time, prolonged drought and record temperatures have created a truly challenging growing environment for our fruits and vegetables. Every crop is valuable – to the farm and to the people whose plates they fill. We simply cannot afford to leave food unpicked.

“With demand for the Seasonal Worker Scheme expected to increase again next year, it is vital that the scheme has the capacity to provide the people the sector needs to pick, pack and process the country’s fruit and vegetables. This means increasing the number of visas available to meet the needs of the sector and extending it to a rolling five-year scheme to allow growers the confidence to invest in their businesses – particularly as growth in the horticulture sector is ambitious of the government. in the National Food Strategy.

“This survey demonstrated how important it is for fruit and vegetable growers to have access to the labor force they need. The extension of the Seasonal Worker Scheme will play a vital role in facilitating this access and ensuring that we do not see this devastating level of food waste next year.”

Other results from the NFU survey:

  • 63% of workers were recruited through the Seasonal Worker Scheme

  • 33% of workers recruited through the Seasonal Worker Program were returned

  • Agribusiness expects 69% of workers to come through Seasonal Worker Program in 2022

The survey includes results from 199 growers in England and Wales, who between them employ over 22,000 seasonal workers.

38,000 visas have been made available for the 2022 Seasonal Worker Scheme. The sector requires 70,000 workers.

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