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Food costs soaring as farms are crushed by visa shortfall | Business News

Labor shortages on British farms have left tons of food unpaid, costing millions of pounds and pushing food inflation at farm gates to 20%, the agro-industry told Sky News.

Farmers say this year’s crop has been affected by the overall shortage of seasonal worker visas issued by the Home Office, delays in processing those visas and a drop in the number of Ukrainian workers coming to the UK following the Russian invasion.

Last year, 60% of workers on seasonal visas were from Ukraine and 6% from Russia. The number has dropped dramatically since adult Ukrainian men were unable to leave the country.

Sky News also spoke to Russians who say their visa applications have been rejected without explanation from hiring agencies, although there were no clear restrictions on Russians working in the UK.

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In 2021, about 30,000 seasonal worker visas were made available. An additional 10,000 were sanctioned this year, of which 8,000 were in horticulture and 2,000 in the poultry industry to reduce production problems.

Individual farmers have already left thousands of pounds worth of crops in the ground due to labor pressures, and there are concerns about the industry’s ability to harvest a full crop in the current berry season and the upcoming apple and pear season.

Derek Wilkinson, managing director of Sandfield Farm, part of G’s Fresh Production Group, employs more than 150 foreign workers on his farm in Worcestershire.

He told Sky News that labor shortages due to delays in visa processing have already cost him about ,000 250,000 for his Worcestershire-grown asparagus and spring onion crop.

“If we don’t have people, we can’t harvest,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “We try to recruit locally and there are no people there. British people don’t just want seasonal work, if you live in the UK you need a permanent job. We try to recruit but we get a lot. Little acceptance.”

“It took about six to seven weeks to process, which I think is ridiculous,” Mr Wilkinson said. “I talk to farmers in Holland and Germany. Everyone does the same thing and they can process a visa in a few days, so I’m not sure why it takes so long.”

“That means at the beginning of May, 40% less of the people we should have been here. They were hired but their visas weren’t processed.”

As a result, the company lost 40 to 45,000 kilograms of asparagus and 750,000 bunches of spring onions worth about £ 150,000, valued at about ,000 100,000, Mr Wilkinson said.

The number of seasonal workers in the UK has been declining since 2018 and since the introduction of the post-Brexit seasonal worker visa system.

This is the only way for low-skilled, low-paid workers to enter the UK from abroad. Previously most seasonal workers came from the European Union without restrictions.

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The British Berry Growers Association says the expansion is now in doubt, with crops worth more than £ 36m destroyed in 2021 because it could not be harvested.

In 2021, about 30,000 seasonal worker visas were made available. An additional 10,000 were sanctioned this year, of which 8,000 were in horticulture and 2,000 in the poultry industry to reduce production problems.

The government plans to reduce the number of seasonal worker visas available the following year before completely shutting down in 2024 with the aim of filling vacancies, including automation, including domestic workers and fruit picking robots.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) warns that the plan is unrealistic and risks contracting the horticulture sector as the government proposes expansion as part of a recently published food strategy.

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said: “Our unemployment rate is very low, we have 4% unemployed and more than a million vacancies, so it’s unrealistic to distribute from the domestic workforce when there are so many permanent roles.”

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The price of the cheapest supermarket pasta has doubled in one year, as rising inflation affects lower grocery prices.

“The Immigration Advisory Committee has identified that seasonal horticulture is unique and we should embrace it,” Mr. Bradshaw said. “We should look at our sector to enable us to provide fresh British food and vegetables to our consumers. This is a great success story, something we can do really well with our climate, but at the moment we feel that our hands are tied. There is behind us. “

Sir Robert Goodwill, Conservative chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, told Sky News that the seasonal worker scheme should be in place, as uncertainty over labor supply could hinder investment.

“We want it to be a permanent scheme. If you plant a vineyard or build a packhouse, you have to make sure you have the labor and do that in the future. The scheme is very successful and there is no reason for them to make it permanent. No. “

Despite high demand in the UK, Russian applicants are struggling to get visas. Ilshat Nizammev from the southern city of Ufa told Sky News that a recruiting agency had canceled his visa without any explanation.

“I wanted to come but my visa was canceled, and I heard that 500 Russian visas like mine have been canceled, so what can I do?” He said.

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The Home Office has denied the visa delay.

“Our company sent us a long email, it said sorry for this information, we support the Russian people, we support the people of Ukraine, but this year it is difficult, we have never had this experience, we did not have so many people who could not get Visa, we can’t do anything for you. “

The Home Office denied that the visa had been delayed, insisting it was processing the application within eight weeks of the “service standard”, but granted visas for Ukrainian refugees.

“We are processing straightforward applications for seasonal worker visas within the service criteria and it is wrong to say that there is a delay in that visa issue,” a spokesman said.

The UK’s access to ready-made seasonal labor as a member of the European Union, especially since joining the 10 predominantly Eastern European states in 2004, has been in some form of agriculture.

The availability of labor has made labor-intensive crops such as berries more efficient and there has been a massive growth in that market. The British Berry Growers Association says the expansion is now in doubt, with crops worth more than £ 36m destroyed in 2021 because it could not be harvested.

Madeleine Sampson, director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, which studies international immigration and policy, says hardening labor can change the harvest.

“In the long run, if fewer workers are available, we can expect the UK to return a little closer to its position in the early 2000s where we were not producing so many labor-intensive products,” he said.

“In the short term it can be quite disruptive for farmers who have developed a business model that relies on the availability of a sufficient number of seasonal workers.”


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