A recent NFU survey has shown the true impact of the workforce shortage on the horticultural sector this harvest season.
The survey’s results show that £22 million worth of fruit and vegetables were wasted in the first half of this year alone, because of the sector’s workforce shortages.
Furthermore, the survey only represents a third of the horticultural sector, which has led the NFU to estimate that the overall value of UK fruit and vegetable wastage could accumulate to more than £60 million in total.
In addition, 40% of survey respondents said they are suffering crop losses because of labour shortages, while 56% reported a fall in production – which growers said they expect to fall by a further 4.4% in 2023.
14% of those surveyed said they are experiencing worker shortages; 17% said recruited workers did not turn up; and 9% said that workers had left their contracts early.
NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “It’s nothing short of a travesty that quality, nutritious food is being wasted at a time when families across the country are already struggling to make ends meet because of soaring living costs.”
“At the same time, the prolonged dry weather and record temperatures have created a really challenging growing environment for our fruit and veg. Every crop is valuable – to the farm business and to the people whose plates they fill. We simply can’t afford to be leaving food unpicked.”
“With the demand on the Seasonal Workers Scheme expected to increase again next year, it’s vital the scheme has the capacity to facilitate the people the sector needs to pick, pack and process the country’s fruit and vegetables. This means increasing the number of visas available to meet the sector’s needs and expanding it to a minimum of a five-year rolling scheme to enable growers to have confidence to invest in their businesses – particularly given that growth in the horticultural sector is a government ambition set out in the National Food Strategy.”
“This survey has demonstrated just how crucial it is for fruit and veg growers to have access to the workforce they need. Expanding the Seasonal Workers Scheme will play a vital role in enabling that access and ensuring we don’t see this devastating level of food waste next year,” concluded Mr Bradshaw.