Fruit and vegetables are being left to rot in England as Brexit deters migrants from taking up picking jobs.
Farmers have told Euronews that restrictions to freedom of movement have had a “devastating” impact.
Brexit — the effects of which kicked-in at the start of the year — means hiring migrant pickers from eastern Europe is now much harder.
Barfoots of Botley, a farming company based on England’s south coast near Bognor Regis, said 750,000 courgettes were being left to rot.
They say that’s because they can’t get the staff and if the situation continues it will force them to make difficult decisions about their future.
“Restricting free movement has had a devasting impact,” said managing director Julian Marks. “But not just on agriculture and horticulture – on pretty much every sector where people from abroad have been working in those sectors for years and now. They’re going home.”
Marks said as a consequence the firm is struggling to fulfil the demands of the supermarkets. He thinks it’s inevitable either shelves will be left empty or the likes of Sainsbury’s and Tescos will turn to EU imports to fill the gaps.
He added it was “tragic” and “demoralising” to see so many vegetables go to waste, saying the situation is worse than expected.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Mark Knight, technical crops manager at Tangmere Airfield Nurseries, the largest farm of its kind in the UK. He told Euronews the extent to which migrants had stayed away had taken him by surprise.
The farm’s general manager, Gerrard Vonk, said they had relied on seasonal pickers from Eastern Europe for 33 years.
But since Brexit, there are “more barriers, more red tape and much more difficulty to actually come and work over here.”
Vonk said he had 72 fewer workers than last year and, as a consequence of the shortages, crops are being left to over-ripen rather than be harvested.
Both Knight and Vonk think the root cause is Brexit, rather than COVID-related travel restrictions. They say Europeans do not feel at home in the UK and they are urging the government to launch a PR campaign to invite them to return.
Boris Johnson’s government has launched a PR drive — but that was last year and aimed at getting Britons to help harvest crops.
Called Pick for Britain, it was aimed at encouraging those left unemployed by the pandemic to fill the gap left by migrant workers.
But one agency, Pro-Force, said of the 450 UK-based workers it placed under the scheme, just 4 per cent were still in their roles by the end of the season.
“Common feedback from the British nationals placed by Pro-Force was that many of them wanted to ‘do their bit’ at time of national crisis but did not see this as a long term, viable option to provide the labour the industry needs in 2021 and beyond,” said James Mallick from Pro-Force in written evidence to a parliamentary committee.
Euronews contacted the UK government to respond to criticism in this article but had not received a response by the time of publication.