Gathering on the farm of York arable farmer, and chair of the NFU environment forum, Richard Bramley, the delegation were able to highlight a range of challenges currently facing farmers and growers. These included a crippling shortage of key workers, such as skilled butchers for the red meat sector, and people to harvest valuable crops, including tomatoes and seasonal vegetables.
They also reported on the impact of rocketing prices of natural gas and CO2 used, for example, in food packaging. The cumulative effect, they said, was forcing up costs way beyond what farmers, processors and manufacturers can absorb – leaving many at ‘breaking point’.
With tons of produce and flowers being thrown away as a result of labour shortages, and difficulty securing supplies of fertiliser for next year, farmers added that many will be planting smaller crops for the coming season in the face of continued uncertainty.
Describing how they had been preparing for Brexit with ambitious recruitment and training schemes, as well as investment in automated technology, businesses owners in the meeting admitted that they had lost two years to the pandemic, when their focus had been purely on coping and keeping the nation fed.
Feeling that these efforts had not been recognised, they called for more time from the government to catch up and get their plans back on track.
Commenting afterwards, NFU President, Minette Batters, said:
“Everyone really appreciated having the conversation with Sir Keir and the Shadow Chancellor. They were very interested in the need for the Covid Recovery Visa to help in the short term with labour shortages as well as the need for a permanent seasonal labour scheme and long-term access to a reliable, competent workforce.
“With Christmas on the horizon and the government’s commitment to a ‘high skill, high wage economy’ they were very interested to understand how this is likely to play out in the weeks and months ahead. It was a very productive conversation.
“As an apolitical organisation, it’s so important we talk to all our political parties and help them understand exactly what is going on.”