Red alert: UK farmers warn of shortage of soft fruits

Like many things that are considered quintessentially English, the humble strawberry is an immigrant. The first garden variety was grown in France in the 18th century, as a result of cross-pollination of strawberries from North and South America. These juicy fruits you buy today at the supermarket? Marriage and European strains merikan.

It was only due to the propensity of Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of Henry VIII, for serving strawberries and cream, the fruit to assume totemic importance to the English psyche, no more than two weeks of Wimbledon tennis, when fans consume more than 34 000 kg of materials.

The good news is that, despite the terrible spring weather, should be a bumper crop this summer. The nation breathes a sigh of relief. “Looking at the crop is very good,” said Nicholas Marston, Chairman of British summer fruits. “It’s a little later than last year, which, seeing that Wimbledon is a bit late isn’t so bad.”

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But the big picture in the strawberry fields of England this year is far from rosy. If producers will have everyone can find the ripe berries is now the most important issue that has serious implications for food security in the UK, health and sustainability of the economy of rural areas.

“Usually we have 10 people interviewed by our Agency for every job,” said Stephanie Morel, chief Executive of Concordia, which supplies some 10,000 foreign workers up to 200 farms in the UK each year.

“A month ago we put three or four job offers before every seasonal workers from Bulgaria and Romania. They will choose those whom they will come. There was a complete switch in 12 months. We’ve never done that before.”

Said Morel some regions will suffer more than others, a shortage. “It does not blow equally in all farms. Scotland is suffering a bit more. It is believed that the season is short and wetter, so it is difficult to earn large sums of money.”

The temptation to associate lack of workers for the quarter and month. And, of course, Britain’s decision to leave didn’t help matters. “The next morning after the vote, we had a very depressed labour force,” said Alastair Brooks, who grows strawberries and raspberries near Faversham in Kent for supermarkets and employs about 200 Bulgarian and Romanian workers. “There were several unpleasant incidents in the city. People say ‘you should go home’. He has brought out the worst in the UK.”

But other factors in the game. “The big problem is not so much in the referendum, and that the unemployment rate in countries such as Romania drops very quickly,” Marston said. “It is obvious that full employment in the country is more attractive than seasonal work in another country, so that the whole pool of labour within the European Union is declining every year.”

So, how serious is the problem?

The evidence presented by English apples and pears limited to the Department of food and rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Committee suggests that almost a third of its members turn as a result of the shortage. Some said that they would remove the gardens, troubled, given that more than 60% of traditional orchards in the country, estimated to have disappeared since 1950-ies.

“Urgent action is needed now to avoid the crops were left unpicked, food waste, food inflation and the displacement of imported products,” the statement said.

Association of labour providers was equally grim. He said that 49% of labour providers do not expect to be able power supply and sufficient seasonal agricultural workers this year and added: “currently, an average of 60% in agriculture and horticulture enterprises face a shortage of low and unskilled roles, one eighth in crisis”.

The problem is not limited to picking fruit. The British meat processors Association said 71% of providers said that they will struggle to meet this year’s demand for labor in the manufacturing sector food products.

No one knows how bad it can become. September, when the season ends for soft fruit and apples and pear season begins when the demand for labour in the most acute. In September 2016, the national farmers ‘ Union (NFU) said there was a 17% deficit; in 2017, this figure increased to almost 30%.

The early signs are not reassuring. Data for the first three months of this year shows a trend of reducing supply on the labour market, but it won’t be up until the crucial may and June figures are published that the true picture is. Then, however, it will be too late.




Arise Yuseinova, and her brothers-Bulgarians on the farm, the Langdon estate, including reducing the number of European workers happy to stay in the UK. Photo: Andy Hall for the observer

“People got plants in the ground now that they don’t know if they can pick up,” said Morel. “We had a grower to go into administration this year; the other was reduced from nine to seven sites. The farmers say that they are not going to plant because they don’t know if they can pick up. People write from the field.”

Last year, Alison capper, gardening in Worcestershire and Chairman of the Board of NFU horticulture, had 100 bins of Gala apples, that “we simply had no choice in time,” because of the lack of manpower. “Gala, the skin is oily, if it is not picked up on time so that we can no longer sell it in the supermarkets,” she said. “So they went for the Apple juice maker, and it cost us £30,000.”

The shortage of labour, seen as the cost of labor will increase from 9 and 12% In the past year. Similar growth is projected this year. “If this continues, we will see how companies are starting obligations,” said Capper. “This is really bad news, because fruits and vegetables are the success story of British agriculture. If we can produce it here, it will be better, nutritional value. Why do we want to reduce our investment in our food chain that provides the greatest benefits, in terms of health?”

The roots of the crisis can be traced to the government’s decision in 2013 to end the seasonal agricultural workers. Created after the Second world war to help the Czech and Polish soldiers who fought in Britain to find work in the country, he mutated the years to ensure that workers from countries such as Belarus, Ukraine and Russia to come to the UK for seasonal visas. Upon graduation, he was confined to Romanian and Bulgarian workers.

Taking the decision to abandon it, the government argued that Romania and Bulgaria join the EU there would be no shortage of labor migrants to work on farms in the UK. Indeed, data released last week show that there are 2.3 million EU citizens currently working in the UK, 2.4% more than it was immediately after the referendum period. More than 400,000 of them were Romanian.

“But we did not realize that all of Europe would now be enough people to do this job,” said Brooks, whose employees earn in one week what they earn in four home.

Many of the young, educated, English speaking workers from Eastern Europe went to work in other sectors, which offer full time or countries such as Germany, which is closer to home. In the UK today seasonal workers from Eastern Europe are more likely to be in their forties, speak little English and find the picking are physically stronger than their predecessors under.

The situation became so bad that Concordia is currently recruiting workers from Moldova, where a third of the population have Romanian or Bulgarian passports.

Other European countries, attracting workers from outside the EU. Brooks said that Poland is using workers from North Korea, while Portugal was relying on migrant labor from Thailand. “That’s the irony,” said Brooks. “We are the only country in Europe that has only European policy officer. Everywhere recruiting from outside the EU.”

Sunder Katwala, Director of British future laboratory, said most people accepted that the UK should lead labour migrants, if the food is maintained. “The public recognizes that we need to find people to do this if we want our strawberries to be picked,” said he.

“Seasonal agricultural workers helped to fill those vacancies until it was revised in 2013. She did a good job and we might need something similar – a well-managed system that brings workers in need, and forcing employers to take responsibility for local impacts of migration, for example, to housing”.

But the government seems to be denial on this issue. In early 2017, he told DEFRA the Committee that the deficit of labour reports were anecdotal. Then, in February, DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove seemed to signal a volte face, saying the conference of NFU scheme will be announced in the near future“”.

The previous interior Minister, Amber Rudd, for such a hint, but no 10 is said to be against the plan, perhaps fearing the headlines if he begins to issue visas for non-EU nationals. The fact that the Prime Minister Theresa may was home Secretary when the initial scheme be scrapped may be the reason some growers consider. Some in the horticultural sector now expect that all will happen until the fall, when he published the state of the order report and the potential to offer temporary visas for foreign workers can be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over a British exit from the EU.




Soft fruit farmer Alastair Brooks, the owner of a farm and Langdon manor, fears, shortage of workers can be disastrous for the industry. Photo: Andy Hall for the observer

The press-Secretary of the home office defended its position. “The government attaches great importance to the UK and farm enterprises as an important component of the UK economy and the fabric of rural Britain. Until the end of the implementation period in December 2020, employers in these industries are free to invite EU citizens to fill jobs and those arriving for work will be able to stay in the UK after.”

Capper blamed the government for resolving the issue of seasonal workers “stuck in the politics of immigration.” “The scheme, which brings together workers in the picking process and packing of fruits and vegetables and sends them home has nothing to do with immigration,” she said.

Morel said that her organization was first approached last week, border force officers ask questions about working, it was bringing in the UK – “the first time it happened.”

Brooks said that such questions were asked of their employees. “We haven’t had this kind of thing in 20 years. You now feel anxiety about where we are heading as a nation. We were all deeply shocked and embarrassed by the scandal Windrush but perhaps this suggests where the Home office.

“If this is true, it is a big problem for the UK economy”.

And it’s up to the UK actually leaves Europe. About 90,000 workers are needed this summer on UK farms. Of these, 35 000 people on seasonal contracts. “As we get closer to the edge of a cliff, as they say, we’ll be in transition, but we don’t know that,” said Capper. “If we do crash out of Europe next year I won’t have access to work in the EU.”

“It would be a disaster,” said Brooks, who is proud of the fact that in the summer 99% of the UK strawberries and raspberries inside its shores.

Maybe in the UK workers to plug the gap? Unlikely. Attempts to recruit them was a “disaster,” Morel suggested.

“There is no appetite. We ring the bell in the office when the employee is UK used. We put jobs at the job centre plus. Absolutely nothing happens. We spent this year two applications in five months.”|

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Frustrated by government delays, some major manufacturers have already diversified. One of the UK’s largest berry farmers, website haygrove in Herefordshire, announced earlier this year that it was reducing seasonal employees and expand in China. Others invested in South Africa and Tasmania.

Now these producers are emissions. Will they become the norm will depend on the ability of the UK to ensure foreign workers.

Last Friday evening as she finished her shift picking strawberries on a farm Brooks in Kent, 27-year-old avise Yuseinova, was a Bulgarian employee, who has promised to continue to work here. “I love England”, she said. “Get me home”.

But on the fields of Britain, Yuseinova becoming an endangered species. There are too many countries and industries want it.

Brooks toured the strawberries and found the ant. He explained that the insect is looking for aphids to milk them for nectar. But the ant was not lucky, as there was no aphid to be found.

“I love Bulgarian workers”, – he said. “The problem is there are only five million of them.”

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