Growers report that they are struggling to recruit sufficient staff to pick fruit crops, despite years of lobbying government over the issue and an expansion of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.
In an email Lincolnshire cabbage grower Naylor Farms 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. Yes, a lot of us voted out [on Brexit] and now we have this problem!”
Stephen Taylor, managing director of Winterwood Farms Ltd near Maidstone, told Kent Live that the labour market had become ‘tighter and tighter’ over the last couple of years. “95 per cent of all fruit and produce picked and packaged in this country is done by eastern Europeans,” he explained. “From the end of June, people who haven’t got pre-settled status, at least, can’t work. We are not talking about a few tens of thousands, we are talking hundreds of thousands of people less to work in the UK. That’s a massive hole.”
At the same time, it emerged that last year’s unsuccessful ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign cost Defra almost £30,000, including £1,424 for Concordia Ltd to create promotional recruitment materials for the campaign, and £2,500 paid to the National Union of Students (NUS) so the Government could find out what went wrong after the scheme was scrapped in April 2021. Defra said that less than 7,000 Britons took up jobs in the sector, but many in the industry say the actual number of recruits was lower than this.