Source: Alamy 

Some growers have reudced their planting area by more than a third for 2022, according to the British Growers Association

Some veg growers have planted over a third fewer crops for the 2022 season due to concerns over the supply of seasonal labour and mounting on-farm costs, the British Growers Association has revealed.

A poll of the BGA’s membership of veg growers last month attracted “a statistically significant” level of response across most veg categories in the UK, according to the industry body’s CEO Jack Ward.

“We were surprised at the extent by which some of these growers were planning to cut back,” Ward said of the year-on-year findings of grower intentions for the 2022 season – with some growers having reduced crop area by as much as 35% compared with 2021.

Plans to cut production were particularly significant in more labour-intensive categories such as brassicas and herbs.

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Many growers had resisted cuts during the uncertainty of 2019 and 2020, he told The Grocer. But in the face of “having to deal with issues around labour availability, escalating costs and comparatively poor returns, growers had built up a body of evidence over the past two years and made the decision to make – in many instances – some far-reaching cuts in production”.

Ward’s comments come as the Commons Efra committee, led by a furious chairman Neil Parish MP, tore into immigration minister Kevin Foster on Tuesday over the government’s failure to adequately tackle the food industry’s labour crisis.

Citing NFU data, Parish said average fresh produce planting was down by a quarter since Brexit as he bemoaned how labour shortages were “slowly destroying” the food sector.

Ward echoed his frustrations, adding fresh produce was a sector “where we should be promoting production” and not looking at a decline.

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“We we should be eating more veg not less veg and we shouldn’t be increasing our reliance on imported product,” he said.

“We have to look long and hard at the level of returns in the marketplace and look at the sustainability of returns coming back to the market,” he added. “And we have to sort this labour situation as it’s having a very detrimental effect on grower confidence.”

There were also “huge concerns over escalating costs, particularly in energy, machinery and packaging”, he said. “We’ve seen no corresponding increase in returns to growers to cover those costs.” 

‘Higher than ever’ crop losses expected as fruit & veg labour crisis hits record levels