Shortage of pickers leaves 50 million apples rotting in UK orchards amid fears Brussels sprouts, cabbages and kale could also be affected
- A third of growers say they have been forced to leave 100 tons of fruit unpicked
- This is because of a labour shortfall in part fuelled by current Brexit uncertainty
- The shortage of pickers and packers is also hitting vegetable growers ahead of the Christmas period
Millions of apples are rotting in orchards due to a shortage of workers to pick the fruit.
A third of growers say they have been forced to leave 100 tons of fruit unpicked – around 16 million apples – because of a labour shortfall in part fuelled by Brexit uncertainty.
Extrapolated across the rest of the sector, it could mean up to 50 million apples are rotting.
The shortage of pickers and packers is also hitting vegetable growers ahead of the Christmas period, with industry leaders fearing supplies of Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, kale and mushrooms could be affected.
A third of growers say they have been forced to leave 100 tons of fruit unpicked, which is around 16 million apples (file image)
The figures emerged in a National Farmers’ Union survey, showing that the crisis was striking hardest as the apple harvest, worth £400 million a year, reached its peak.
Ali Capper, chairman of the NFU’s horticulture and potato board, said: ‘That is enough apples to feed 44,000 children every day for a year. And that is just 30 per cent of the industry – it could be much more.’
Elsewhere, a grower from the South-West has had to let broccoli valued at £100,000 rot in his fields. Another from Ledbury, Herefordshire, who needs an extra 100 pickers, has lost the equivalent of 87,000 punnets of raspberries.
Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, said: ‘I know a mushroom grower in East Anglia who is operating at two-thirds capacity because he can’t get workers.’
The shortage of pickers and packers is also hitting vegetable growers ahead of the Christmas period, with industry leaders fearing supplies of Brussels sprouts (pictured) could be affected
In recent years, a shortage of workers from Eastern Europe has caused problems for growers but the situation has worsened this year over Brexit fears.
In August, the labour shortage was reported to be almost 18 per cent. Last month, it was 20 per cent, but experts fear this month the figure could be as high as 30 per cent.
A similar 20 per cent shortage of workers last year was eased when growers increased recruitment by offering higher wages – the average is £12 per hour – and better bonuses.
But this year, workers are apparently put off by the devaluation of sterling. Instead, they are taking jobs paid in euros in the Netherlands, Germany and Spain.
Mrs Capper said: ‘EU workers now fear they need to buy a passport when they have always been able to travel and work here on identity cards.’
Industry experts estimate that an extra 10,000 workers are needed. The NFU wants the Government to expand a pilot scheme allowing workers from outside the EU to travel for seasonal work in Britain. At present, only 2,500 such work permits a year are granted.
Stephanie Maurel, of labour provider Concordia, said: ‘We’ve advertised in Jobcentre Plus but have less than five British workers on our books. There is no appetite for hard, outdoor seasonal work.’
A government spokesman said: ‘When we leave the EU, we’ll have an immigration system which will benefit the whole of the UK, including growers.’