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UK growers stop planting and put nurseries on sale amidst energy crisis and labor shortage

Another sign of UK growers struggling came up last week when the Lea Valley Growers Association shared that they were putting a few nurseries on sale. “We have five nurseries for sale at the moment,” says Lee Stiles, secretary of the association. “The energy crisis has hit growers hard, making them unable to make a living based on produce retail price. Even though the UK government has put a price cap on the gas until April 1st, it won’t be enough to encourage growers to plant.”

Among the nurseries on sale, there is one of 7-acre site that used to grow peppers; another 7-acre one where cucumbers were grown, and two other small ones with cucumbers as well. “And we also have another 10+ acre grower that is planting just half of their area.”

Yet, this has little to do with the energy crisis, as it’s more about another challenge that has plagued the horti sector for a long time. “A major issue we have here is that we can’t find workers,” Lee points out. “And there’s no point in planting if you can’t be confident that you will get enough staff. So, people had to make drastic decisions.”

Coupling that with supermarkets driving prices down, growers found themselves navigating quite troubled waters. “That has also prevented growers from investing in new materials and infrastructure,” Lee remarks. “Over the past ten years, you could see eroding the ability of growers to invest. So, you can see that some of our nurseries, for instance, have modern glass, but also 5-year-old or even 40-year-old glass.”

Considering how much growers are struggling, Lee expects that next year there will be even fewer growers planting. “At the moment, we have 80 growers, but that can change on a weekly basis now because now it’s the time when they decide if they are going to plant in January.”

To improve the situation and provide growers with some relief, Lee believes that mainly two things need to happen. “That has to be a change in government policy on labor and energy assistance,” he explains. “The government hasn’t come up with an adequate plan for growers to get enough seasonal workers because of Brexit. So, whether the energy crisis drops, what really needs to change ultimately is the policy on labor. Robots aren’t coming any time soon, and we are going to need labor for quite a while.”

For more information:
Lea Valley Growers Association