Urgent action needed to stop worker shortage ‘crippling’ British farms, MPs warned

‘Completely inexcusable’ level of food waste and ‘tragic’ cull of pigs must be halted with more temporary worker visas, say farming industry leaders

Ben Chapman
Tuesday 26 October 2021 19:13
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<p>There is a backlog of pigs awaiting slaughter (Gareth Fuller/PA)</p>

There is a backlog of pigs awaiting slaughter (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“Very urgent” action is needed to deal with an acute worker shortage that has led to food being thrown away and a "tragic" cull of pigs, British farming leaders have warned.

MPs heard that pig farmers are in a "deeply distressing" situation due to a lack of butchers while flower growers who were forced to dump a quarter of their crop this year face an even worse shortfall of workers next year.

Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), told the Commons Environment Committee that the labour shortage is the number one problem facing British farmers.

He told the committee that it was "completely inexcusable" that farmers had been forced to throw away produce from courgettes to raspberries and were now culling pigs because of a lack of workers.

"It is within the gift of the government to put solutions in place that will make sure that does not happen next year but it needs to happen very urgently,” Mr Bradshaw said.

"I've never seen the industry in the position it's in at the moment and a real lack of confidence is crippling the sector."

Farmers have begun cutting back on production next year because they say they cannot risk planting more crops that go to waste. As well as a lack of labour, growers' already tight profit margins are being squeezed by rising costs for energy and fertiliser.

Mr Bradshaw added: "We have glasshouses that should be growing tomatoes which are currently being mothballed because they don't know if they will have the labour to pick them while energy costs are also spiralling and having an impact."

Charlie Dewhirst, policy adviser of the National Pig Association, told MPs the industry was in a "deeply distressing time" because pigs are unable to be processed.

"Some have reached the position where there is no contingency left to stock those animals and they have been culled, in a welfare cull, and not entered the food chain.

Graeme Dear, chairman of the British Poultry Council, warned the committee that more turkeys may need to be imported for Christmas because not enough have been produced in the UK.

The poultry sector has been given access to as many as 5,500 workers to process meat but Mr Deare indicated it had come too late to prevent Christmas shortages.

"We would have loved to have known about that in June, and therefore could have placed enough turkeys for a full Christmas."

Turkey farmers cut back production by as much as a fifth earlier in the year, citing labour shortages.

"Around 90 per cent of our shortages are in the processing plants, and the irony is that we may find ourselves having to import turkey from France and Poland for a British Christmas, probably with some of the very workers we trained and left to go back to their homelands."

Flower growers face a worsening labour crisis next year, the committee heard. Derek Jarman said that while the industry had a market fro its product it had 15 per cent fewer workers this year than it needed, a shortfall that is expected to grow to 25 per cent next year.

"The net effect is that it will come in from overseas, especially with the way the pound is going. The pound is getting stronger which makes overseas production cheaper.

"We are all frightened. We are all in great fear and we don't know what to do. I've never seen it like this in all my life."

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