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UK berry grower eyes China switch, amid Brexit worries

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Angus Davison, founder of UK berry grower Haygrove, says Prime Minister Theresa May could learn a lot from the Chinese who "instilled confidence and positivity" in his business.

 

Haygrove was looking to maximise opportunities in the Chinese markets, as it struggled to recruit fruit pickers in the UK.

 

Concerns over Brexit have driven the grower to reduce its UK operation and up to 200 seasonal jobs have gone.

 

Mr Davison says the company could not afford to wait for Ms May to reveal her post-Brexit immigration policy, with tight margins and needing to plan ahead.

 

He has written to the UK prime minister warning if a seasonal workers scheme was not put in place she should “expect to see the steep decline of this significant rural employer and source of food”.

 

Agriculture vs construction

 

“It is appreciated that treating one industry differently to another is difficult,” he says.

 

“However agriculture, unlike construction and hospitality, can be exported.

 

“If enough people are not made available to do the work, the work can be taken to the people.”

 

The company was now investing in China instead and warned if it could not get the migrant workers, more of the business would have to move abroad or close altogether.

 

‘We are not stuck here’

 

Haygrove was founded in Herefordshire in 1988. The business also now has farms in South Africa and Portugal.

 

“I would feel very, very sad for the people here, after 30 years of building together,” he said.

 

“But I would quickly move our activities abroad, with those that wanted to come. We are not stuck here, we live on planet earth.”

 

“If we don’t get the migrant workers for 2019, we can run it for a year [on existing plants], and the year after we would close.”

 

‘Fundamental realities’

 

He also urged Ms May to learn from the Chinese, who he said instilled confidence and positivity in his business.

 

“I think that it is sad that our prime minister does not seem to understand fundamental food business realities.”

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