UK farmers consider moving to mainland Europe as some warn the price of fruits could rise by almost 50 per cent, The Independent reports. For 70 years, Tim Chambers’ family has harvested fruit in south-east England, but after Britain’s vote last year to leave the European Union he expanded into Poland and is ready to sell some of his land if a shortage of migrant workers worsens.
His firm, W. B. Chambers & Son, has relied heavily on seasonal staff from Eastern Europe for the past two decades as it focused on growing raspberries and blackberries that require laborious harvesting by hand.
Typically, at the height of the summer season, 1,200 migrant workers from other EU states pick the delicate berries from more than 520 kilometers (320 miles) of rows of bushes planted across rolling land in Kent, a county known as the Garden of England.
This year, Chambers found it harder to recruit workers at the start of the season in June. Many workers hesitated about coming to Britain after the fall in the value of the pound since the vote for Brexit in the June 2016 referendum.
Although he eventually filled his rosters, for the first time he does not have a waiting list of candidates hoping to come to his farm in August to work until the spring
Chambers invested this year in raspberry production with a partner in Poland to avoid possible barriers to exporting fruit to the EU from Britain when Brexit happens in 2019.
If the shortage in migrant labour gets worse and pushes up his costs, he is prepared to shift more of his business to Poland and might even sell some of his family’s land in England, he said.
“If we don’t get a secure supply of labour, we will have to adjust the size of our business and restructure to make us more efficient in the new economic situation and look to produce product abroad,” he said on a clear-skied July afternoon, as teams of Bulgarian workers made their way up and down rows of raspberry bushes.
Employers in other sectors have said they are seeing signs that Britain has become less attractive to foreign workers who often fill jobs that Britons are unwilling to do for low wages.
Forty-three per cent of employers in education and 49 per cent in healthcare said staff from other EU countries had considered leaving Britain, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
The government has said it will use a transition period to ensure employers are not left without workers after Brexit, but so far there is no clear sign of how it plans to do that.
While some farmers might move production abroad, others could give up if they can’t hire the staff, an industry representative said.
“Not all farmers are capable of going across the water to mainland Europe,” said Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, a trade body. “If there is no labour, most of the businesses will close.”
Nick Ottewell, farming director for Laurence J Betts, a Kent-based salad grower, said the family-owned farm he works for was not big enough for relocation to be a viable option.
“The worst-case scenario is that we don’t have enough people, and then we don’t have a business,” said Ottewell, whose company employs 120 seasonal workers to pick 10,000 tonnes of lettuce a year.
At least four of his seasonal workers are considering finding jobs in other EU countries, he said.
“We never really had a problem with people wandering off and going to different jobs,” Ottewell said. “But that’s now happening more.”