Labor shortfall leading to food waste, UK farmers warn

Labor shortages have resulted in “catastrophic” food waste and placed huge quantities of further crops at risk, British farmers have warned as they enter peak season for harvesting soft fruit and vegetables. The limited number of seasonal visas for overseas workers threatens a contraction of the sector, including some farms going bankrupt, industry groups said, just as the recently published government food strategy has outlined the objective of boosting production.

A survey of British Berry Growers’ members found annual waste that could solely be attributed to a lack of access to pickers almost doubled in value from 2020 to 2021, from £18.7mn to £36.5mn. Nick Marston, chair of the industry group, predicted the total would “double again this year.”

“It will be more not less as a direct consequence of the restricted supply of labor, as a direct consequence of government policy on immigration,” he said. Ali Capper, executive chair of British Apples and Pears and former chair of the National Farmers’ Union horticulture and potatoes board, said one grower reportedly had not been able to harvest 2mn iceberg lettuces because there were not enough people to pick them.

“In May, we have had some catastrophic food waste across crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, iceberg lettuces, salad, and asparagus,” she said. Marston also raised the prospect of some farms being forced to close. 

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