Scottish vegetable growers are having to throw away millions of cauliflower and broccoli heads due to a shortage of farmworkers and lorry drivers.
The East of Scotland Growers (ESG) group, a farmers' co-operative in Fife, has estimated that it has scrapped 3.5m heads of broccoli and 1.9m heads of cauliflower so far as a result of the crisis.
Managing director of ESG, Andrew Faichney, said that he was concerned that producers hadn’t seen the end of the problems already crippling the industry.
He said: “We should have started our freezing production last weekend, but, as yet, we haven’t frozen a single floret of broccoli. The delay in freezing is a result of a lack of lorries to haul frozen product out of freezer stores to retail depots.” He continued: “With a shortage of lorries, retailers are prioritising short shelf-life products - the net result being storage is now at capacity, and there is nowhere to store processed product.”
Not only are there issues finding heavy goods vehicle drivers to transport food to cold stores, but farmers are also struggling to find enough people to harvest the vegetables.
Faichney said that he was working with around 80 per cent of the required workforce on the farm, meaning staff were earning extra money for working overtime.
“The fear is that these workers will head home earlier than required due to reaching their financial target,” he said. “They are actually starting to disappear off farm already, where historically we have relied on workers finishing the fruit season and migrating over to field veg in the months of September and October.”
Scottish food and farming organisations sent a letter to the UK and Scottish governments this week calling for more action to tackle the labour crisis ahead of the crucial Christmas season. The letter said: “Both Brexit and the pandemic have accelerated existing pressures on labour availability..."
Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, said: “Labour shortages throughout the food supply chain are creating a ‘perfect storm’ of increasing costs for our members. While the long-term solution is to train more UK nationals, we will only avoid further disruption to food supplies and inflationary cost increases by sorting out temporary visa measures.”