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British flower growers hit by labor shortage after Brexit

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British flower and ornamental plant growers have warned that after Brexit, millions of flowers will not be harvested this year because plans to accept foreign farm workers did not include the billion-pound sector.

Alex Newey, owner of Varfell Farms in Cornwall, the UK’s largest daffodil grower, said the lack of hiring is deciding which parts of the crop will rot this year. He currently has 400 pickers for daffodil harvesting operations compared to the average 750.

Most of the gathering was carried out by foreign workers, mainly from Eastern Europe, for decades. Settled or pre-settled EU citizens who give them the right to stay in the UK can work on British farms, while Newey doesn’t have enough of such immigrants, while only food growers use the government’s seasonal worker pilot plan to work more abroad. .

“This plan should be adjusted to include ornamental gardening. Otherwise, a large crowd of ornamental farming would be wasted,” Newey said.

At Varfell, he added that millions of flowers will remain unpicked. Farms typically harvest 500 million stems on 3,500 acres each year.

Need more pickers or find something else to farm

Fruit and vegetable growers have welcomed the expansion of the seasonal worker pilot system, allowing 30,000 workers to temporarily travel to UK farms in 2021 after Brexit ended the free movement of EU members. Workers using this scheme are not required to meet the points-based UK visa standards currently used by most migrants.

However, unlike previous versions, the current seasonal plan is aimed at food and does not include ornamental plant growers. Tom Bradshaw, vice-chairman of the National Farmers’ Union, said the need for food security was the key to securing expansion from the government.

“We will continue to make cases for ornamental growers. We believe they make a significant contribution to the economy. . . And people’s well-being.”

British families spent £1.9 billion on cut flowers and £7.5 billion on garden supplies in 2017, according to consulting firm Oxford Economics, with additional plants being exported.

Ministers have encouraged the farms to recruit British workers for seasonal harvests, but such efforts have yielded little results because local job seekers are reluctant to labor through the hard labors, which are temporary and often based in remote rural areas.

Adam Taylor, director of Taylors Bulbs in Lincolnshire, said his company would typically harvest up to 40 million narcissus stalks, but after realizing that they couldn’t recruit enough workforce and downgrading their plans, this year’s figure is less than 10 million. Said this would be.

He will have fewer than 100 pickers compared to more than 200 over the past few years. His business sells bulbs as well as flowers, but Taylor said harvesting only daffodil bulbs would be impossible in the long run.

“It is a very intensive crop to grow. “The economic decision to grow daffodils requires a bulb harvest and a flower harvest.”

Daffodil growers are already feeling the impact of farmers’ shortages as their crops grow early in the year.

However, James Barnes, chairman of the Horticultural Trade Association, said that typically around 9,500 seasonal workers have roles in the field of ornamental plants and flowers, of which between 5,000 and 7,000 were previously temporary employees abroad.

“As the year progresses and other seasonal gardening products come out, there will be more impacts,” he added. The tribe will not only affect the cut flowers, but the seedlings and bedding plants, Barnes said.

Newey says the problem is also affecting mixed-agricultural farmers who have previously moved workers between food and ornamental crops.

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Like food growers, flower producers face additional pressure from the UK’s powerful supermarkets to lower prices. Currently, bundles of daffodils are sold for a pound. Meanwhile, when hiring foreign workers, you have to compete with other European countries that do not require a visa.

The Environment, Food and Rural Department said: “This year’s extended seasonal worker pilot will be operational to support the edible horticultural sector to ensure food security. However, we continue to monitor demand in other sectors, including ornamental plants. They met.” It added that it will work with the industry to promote local recruitment and automation.

More than 4 million EU citizens have settled or settled in advance, but there is little data on how many people intend to do seasonal farm work. The government previously estimated 20,000 people.

Newey said, “We need more pickers or we have to find something else to farm. . . We wouldn’t put millions of pounds worth of bulbs on the ground just to watch them bloom and wither.”

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