Clock ticking on decisions as EU deal deadline approaches

On the back of a virtual Fruit Focus event last week, NFU horticulture and potatoes chairman Ali Capper provides an update on the NFU's work on the issues facing the sector.

She writes:

2020 is passing us by very quickly. What with Brexit and COVID, we have all been so incredibly busy that I’m certain we will get to the end of the year and wonder just how we got there. But the lack of time left is a real concern. The Prime Minister has set a deadline of 15 October to reach a trade deal with the EU, otherwise he will walk away. That is little more than four weeks from now. Deals were also supposed to be struck – in record time – with the US, New Zealand and Australia. They managed it with the Japan deal, but our trade with Japan is significantly smaller.

Time is also ticking on the vital decision we need for a seasonal worker scheme in 2021. It was top of the bill at the NFU’s webinars at Fruit Focus last week. The NFU held two sessions on Brexit (including labour implications) and COVID. They are available to watch again here, and I would encourage you to do so. As NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw explained, there is a lot of work happening to get this over the line but COVID changed the political dynamic and we are now faced with what one Minister has described as an unemployment Armageddon. Securing the seasonal worker scheme has been made much harder as a result. On top of this, the poll that was run during the Brexit webinar indicated that a third of horticultural businesses had less than 25% of their workforce with settled or pre-settled status, and 18% of businesses didn’t know. It is clear UK workers will not plug this sizeable gap, and the government needs to make its decision as soon as possible.

♦ Read Ms Capper's August blog on the importance of securing access to labour in 2021

With lockdown measures seemingly tightening once more, there are also concerns over the impacts it continues to have on some sectors of horticulture. I speak from experience as a hops grower that Defra’s decision not to support the sector is incredibly disappointing. Pubs and restaurants closed for many weeks and have been running at low capacity since. Local lockdowns are making our most optimistic forecasts look unrealistic. The impact this will have on the future for the industry cannot be underestimated, with many growers unable to secure future contracts and a knock on effect to 2021, 2022 and 2023 that could see growers simply exit the industry. Read more on this from the NFU here.

This has, no doubt, been the most challenging year that I can remember. We are well overdue some good news and the NFU will continue to work with our members, represent their views, and seek solutions that give us some hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The harvest is well underway here at home and at least the sun is shining for us.

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