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UK grower mulls output shifts to EU, Africa, as Brexit spurs labour squeeze

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One of the UK’s leading fresh produce companies could grow more crops on its farms in countries which are remaining in the European Union if it cannot attract seasonal labour to the UK, reports Jon Wheeler.

 

G’s Fresh already has farms in several EU countries and in Africa, so it can provide crops to its supermarket customers 12 months a year.

 

Its European sites in Poland, Czechia (formerly called the Czech Republic) and Spain could be used to grow a wider range of crops if attracting seasonal labour remained a problem, G’s Fresh marketing director Anthony Gardiner told a farming conference in England’s East Midlands.

 

Labour needs

 

“If we cannot access seasonal workers we would have to increase production overseas," he said.

 

“We would have to grow crops like spring onions – which we currently grow in the UK – in Poland because it takes a lot of labour to hand bunch them."

 

He said G’s expected some form of scheme to be worked out and, along with others in the sector, was talking with the relevant government ministers.

 

But attracting seasonal workers was already a problem because of the huge shift in exchange rates.

 

This year many potential recruits had shunned the UK to take similar jobs in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany or Italy.

 

Currency hit

 

Mr Gardiner added: “We struggled to attract and retain workers throughout 2017 and the rules have not changed yet.

 

“The biggest factor is the shift in the exchange rate since 2016, which has made attracting labour to the UK more challenging,” with a weaker pound translating into lower wages in immigrant workers’ home currencies.

 

Many potential workers do not know what Brexit means, or that we are in a grace period at the moment.

 

“They do not realise they are still welcome here.”

 

Good communications

 

The benefits of good labour relations were extolled by Tom Rawson, Evolution Farming, which has not had to pay for advertising of staff roles available at its growing number of dairy farms for some years.

 

The company now runs six farms, and says it gets all the applicants it needs for jobs from posting updates on its website.

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