A new NFU survey indicates that the fruit and vegetable harvest this year has been massively impacted by a shortage of staff to pick the crop.
The results show that £22 million worth of fruit and vegetables were wasted in the first half of 2022 alone. As the survey represents around a third of the horticultural sector, the NFU estimates that up to £60 million has been wasted.
It also showed that:
- 40% of respondents are suffering crop losses as a result of labour shortages
- 56% of respondents reported a fall in production – averaging a 19% reduction across the businesses
- On average for the 2022 season so far, businesses are experiencing worker shortages of 14% (this is based on recruitment and does not factor in the added effects of early leavers)
- 17% of workers recruited did not turn up
- 9% of workers left their contract early
- Growers expect a further fall in production in 2023 of 4.4%
NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “It’s nothing short of a travesty that quality, nutritious food is being wasted at a time when families across the country are already struggling to make ends meet because of soaring living costs.
“At the same time, the prolonged dry weather and record temperatures have created a really challenging growing environment for our fruit and veg. Every crop is valuable – to the farm business and to the people whose plates they fill. We simply can’t afford to be leaving food unpicked.
“With the demand on the Seasonal Workers Scheme expected to increase again next year, it’s vital the scheme has the capacity to facilitate 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 sector’s needs and expanding it to a minimum of a five-year rolling scheme to enable growers to have confidence to invest in their businesses – particularly given growth in the horticultural sector is a government ambition set out in the National Food Strategy.
“This survey has demonstrated just how crucial it is for fruit and veg growers to have access to the workforce they need. Expanding the Seasonal Workers Scheme will play a vital role in enabling that access and ensuring we don’t see this devastating level of food waste next year.”