Farming: Warning shot on labour shortages as shelves empty

As Scottish-grown broccoli became the latest in a growing number of products failing to reach supermarket shelves due to picker and processor labour shortages, NFU Scotland yesterday joined a chorus of Scottish businesses calling for urgent government action to tac kle the crisis.

Broccoli deliveries were hit
Broccoli deliveries were hit

Warning of severe labour shortages hitting the Scottish food and drink sector in the run-up to the Christmas rush, on open letter to the Scottish and UK governments has urged urgent action. The letter was organised by the Food and Drink Federation and pointed out that the impact of the crisis at grassroots level was growing with meatprocessors and haulage firms all being affected alongside farm labour required to pick and process a wide range of crops.

Andrew Faichney, Managing Director of East Of Scotland Growers (ESG) yesterday highlighted the costly impact that Scottish growers were facing linked to labour, haulage, processing availability and the weather.

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The concatenation of problems has seen the farmer owned cooperativebased in Cupar, placed in a position where it has been unable to market four million heads of broccoli and cauliflower – with more unlikely to get to market this week.

The industry letter said that both Brexit and the Covid pandemic had accelerated existing pressures on labour availability: “We have now reached crisis point putting the growth, viability andsecurity of many Scottish businesses in jeopardy, with knock on impactsfor consumers. We need action now to save Christmas.”

The letter called on the on the UK Government to:– Introduce a 12-month Covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain to deal with immediate pressures on the industry and allow employers to expand recruitment to EU and other overseas workers;

– Commission an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee of theneeds of the food and drink sector;

– Waive the fees to employment visas for the food and drink supply chain until 2022.

The group also advised the Scottish Government to:– Ensure support for automation is embedded in Scottish Government funding programmes where it supports productivity and the development of higher quality jobs;– Work with the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership to continue to promote the industry as a great career destination, and to provide opportunitiesthrough apprenticeships and other schemes.

“These are unprecedented and turbulent times and, until stabilityreturns for businesses, we would ask the UK and Scottish Governments to support the industry and implement these measures. Without these, we strongly believe the current supply chain disruption will only worsen as we enter the peak trading period in the run-up to Christmas,” warned the signatories.

A similar letter was backed by the English NFU south of the border,where the UK-wide shortage of labour was put at 500,000.

Vice-president, Tom Bradshow said it was simplistic to argue that theend of furlough would see more people looking for work – pointing outthat the majority of these workers were concentrated in urban areas and not where the majority agri-food roles were located.

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