Brexit means fall in crops and fewer British products in supermarkets, farmers tell MPs

Exclusive: Kent farming giant reports 8% fall in harvest due to lack of seasonal pickers – saying it’s easier to import fruit

Adam Forrest
Thursday 02 June 2022 10:28 BST
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Brexit has led to a decline in crops and fewer home-grown products on the shelves of Britain’s supermarkets, farming chiefs have warned.

Farmers in Kent told a visiting group of MPs that it has become easier to import some fruits than harvest them because of strict limits on the number of seasonal workers from the EU.

Winterwood Farms, an agricultural giant based in the county, said its UK farms had been forced to leave 8 per cent of their fruit crop unharvested and would be planting less in future.

Stephen Taylor, managing director of Winterwood in Maidstone, said the government’s advice to replace lost EU labour with British workers and robots showed how “out of touch” ministers had become.

“The flow of people coming from Europe to work for the summer has declined every year since Brexit, particularly the last two summers, and as a direct result we are now growing less and importing more,” he said.

Calling for more flexible seasonal work visas, he added: “The government could still allow the same people to carry out the harvest – but it has inexplicably decided to choke the industry instead.”

Labour MP Hilary Benn led a delegation of MPs and industry chiefs to visit Winterwood’s farms in Kent to see the difficulties they are facing with labour shortages.

They were told the problem had hit the whole farming sector – resulting in less fresh, more expensive imported fruit in British supermarkets to cover the shortfall.

The UK Trade and Business Commission delegation, which is examining the impact of Brexit, also heard that British farmers’ off-season trade had also been badly hit.

Farmers could previously sell any surplus from overseas operations to EU markets, but new Brexit red tape means they must now pay to dispose of this fruit.

Mr Benn, co-convenor of the commission, said the government’s immigration and trade policies were “raising questions over our food security”.

The senior Labour MP added: “It is essential that ministers urgently consider the introduction of more flexible visas for seasonal workers and negotiate better trading terms on fresh produce with our European neighbours.”

Stephen Taylor, managing director of Winterwood Farms, wants more flexibility over seasonal workers

Mr Benn and co-convenor Peter Norris have written to home secretary Priti Patel and environment secretary George Eustice to request urgent meetings on the problems affecting British farms.

Naomi Smith, chief executive of the internationalist campaign group Best for Britain, said Boris Johnson’s ministers might have to stomach “more European berries in their Pimms this summer”.

She added: “The government’s insufficient Brexit deal, far from being oven ready, actually means quality home-grown produce is left to rot, and leaves British supermarkets with no choice but to import, meaning consumers have less choice, less fresh produce and higher prices.”

A recent report by academics at the LSE Centre for Economic Performance found that Brexit had caused a 6 per cent increase in Britain’s food prices.

The study showed “a clear and robust impact of Brexit-induced trade frictions increasing food prices for UK consumers” as families continued to struggle with the cost of living crisis.

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