Tag Archives: labour

Berry Gardens begins two year robotics trial

Berry Gardens is working with the University of Lincoln and Norway’s Saga Robotics to trial the use of the Thorvald agricultural robot in soft fruit fields and see if it can increase harvest efficiency.

The ‘trailblazing’ project, known as RAS-Berry, has attracted funding from Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The main use of the robots in the trail is to transport boxes of harvested fruit from the picking- to the collection-point, relieving workers to concentrate on the more difficult task of picking and improving overall harvest efficiency.

Ursula Lidbetter MBE, Chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, commented, “Greater Lincolnshire is a major food-producing area, and the agri-food industry is one of our six priority sectors. It’s fantastic to see a Lincolnshire-based project leading the way in AI. This will really put Lincolnshire on the map for developing technologies that can help and support the county’s food producers to grow and innovate.”

Photo Credit: Saga Robotics

The post Berry Gardens begins two year robotics trial appeared first on Hort News on 23 July 2018.

Scottish soft fruit growers say produce being wasted due to lack of pickers

Scottish soft fruit growers in Perthshire and Angus are seeing perfectly good produce left behind on bushes due to a shortage of pickers, just as demand peaks during one of the UK’s hottest summers in forty years.

As well as the unprecedented demand, the weather has lead to high yields of fruit which is ripening extremely quickly. These factors, when added to the ongoing labour crisis has created perfect storm which has seen fruit go to waste.

General Manager of Angus Soft Fruits, William Houston, told The Courierthat most producers were “just about” coping, but said that most fields weren’t getting a final pick over to clear up any last fruit.

“The other big issue is that the standard of workers from Eastern Europe isn’t as good as it used to be,” he added. “If we had the same standard as even two years ago they’d all be relishing the busyness, working their guts out picking huge volumes of fruit and everyone would be happy. But there is a huge difference between the best workers who can pick 20kgs an hour and the worst at only 8kg an hour.”

Peter Marshall Fruit at Alyth said it had left 15 tonnes of strawberries and five tonnes of raspberries to rot last week because of a combination of too few pickers and an unusually long period of sunshine which meant the fruit ripened quickly. “The fruit is ripening so fast, by the time the pickers get to the end of a drill they need to start all over again,” commented the firm’s Meg Marshall.

Photo Credit: Claudette Gallant / Public Domain Pictures

The post Scottish soft fruit growers say produce being wasted due to lack of pickers appeared first on Hort News on 18 July 2018.

NFU and Concordia issue labour warning

Agricultural labour supplier Concordia has warned that due to the implications of Brexit, workers from Eastern Europe are choosing to work elsewhere than the UK, putting pressure on the availability of harvest workers for the coming season.

Factors such as the weak pound and high travelling costs to the UK mean that the company, which normally supplies up to 10,000 foreign workers for some 200 farms a year could be 10 per cent worse this year. Concordia chief executive Stephanie Maurel warned the Eastern Daily Press that overall the national picture this year is likely to be “a lot, lot worse.”

Calling for urgent action from the Government to allow the recruitment of workers from countries outside the EU, such as Ukraine, she added, “The money itself is reasonable, and that doesn’t come out as a complaint when we do our surveys and focus groups. What does is that the strength of the pound means that when they convert back into euro and to local currency they’re usually better off going to Germany or Scandinavia, because Brexit has actually had an impact on the comparison rates, which is one thing.”

While may UK growers and farmers have good reputations as employers, she pointed out: “That only goes so far if you can earn more in Germany because the strength of the pound has changed.”

Ali Capper, chair of the National Farmers’ Union horticulture and potatoes board, told the newspaper that, anecdotally growers currently “have just about enough labour”, but that the industry is “very concerned” about the summer months.

Photo Caption: Concordia chief executive Stephanie Maurel

The post NFU and Concordia issue labour warning appeared first on Hort News on 7 June 2018.

Royal asparagus grower could fail

A Norfolk asparagus grower whose produce was served at the Royal Wedding on Saturday has warned that without access to workers, his business could fail.

Protocol prevented Andy Allen from confirming that he had supplied asparagus to the Windsor kitchens, but a photograph on their website appeared to show bunches of his produce and he did not deny it.

However, he told The Guardian newspaper, “This is the best PR I could ever have had to be able to supply the royal kitchens and yet will I be able to continue to supply them? It is a huge privilege to be chosen, but it doesn’t help because who is going to pick the bloody stuff? We are completely reliant on seasonal migrant workers. If we can’t get that labour I’ll have to pack up. There is not the technology to pick asparagus with robots.”

He added that his concerns about finding workers had limited his area of the crop. Chief Executive of Concordia, which supplies labour to Mr Allen, Stephanie Maurel added: “The public voted to not have enough workers to pick fruit and veg in this country. They haven’t made the connection that 95% to 100% of British asparagus is picked by an eastern European. We have people who are keen to come; farmers who are desperate to have people pick their crops, and we just can’t bridge that gap and it is going to costs thousands in livelihoods.”

Photo Caption: Preparing asparagus in the Royal kitchens ahead of the wedding between Prince Harry and Megan Markle.

Photo Credit: www.royal.uk

The post Royal asparagus grower could fail appeared first on Hort News on 23 May 2018.

Scottish soft fruit needs labour commitment

Scottish fruit grower James Porter has told Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing that the country’s successful soft fruit industry needs a seasonal workers scheme in place by this summer if crop is not to be wasted.

Mr Porter made the comments during a visit by Mr Ewing to co-operative Angus Growers based at Auchrennie near Carnoustie, where the MSP visited polytunnels used to grow strawberries and spoke to workers.

With the soft fruit industry estimated to be worth £134 million to Scotland’s economy, Mr Porter, who is also NFU Scotland’s soft fruit chairman, said, “We urgently need a seasonal workers scheme which will apply to people from out with the EU, because the weakness of the pound no longer makes working in the UK such an attractive option. He added that while his business currently has enough workers, he expects to be 15 per cent short by August, and that EU labour will not be enough to meet demand.

Mr Ewing said that the issue is down to Westminster and that he had pressed Environment Secretary Michael Gove on the issue: “After the second meeting [Gove] said the seasonal workers scheme would come forward soon, then advised ‘complete clarity’ by the end of March. The end of March has come and gone and now the end of April has gone. The UK Government could end this ongoing uncertainty by committing to remaining in the EU single market and customs union. Such a position would demonstrate to seasonal workers that Scotland, and the whole of the UK, remains an open and welcoming place to live and work.”

Photo Caption: Fergus Ewing visited cooperative Angus Growers

Photo Credit: Fergus Ewing

The post Scottish soft fruit needs labour commitment appeared first on Hort News. on 17 May 2018.

Lack of labour could kill Scottish fruit sector

A survey of Scottish farmers and growers has indicated that two-thirds of them may quit the industry if they are unable to access EU labour after Brexit, causing fears about the survival of the country’s horticulture sector.

The research, which was conducted by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) last summer, Research by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) showed there were 9,225 seasonal migrant workers in Scotland last year (which it described as a conservative estimate), with the majority involved in picking soft fruit, as well as the field veg and potato sectors.

The survey also suggested more than half of farmers would also consider diversifying their operations due to labour shortages. The survey’s authors said, ‘Brexit has undoubtedly affected the confidence of a proportion of workers and therefore their expectations about returning to Scotland in 2018. Approximately 40 per cent of the surveyed workers were certain they would be returning to Scotland in 2018, with 12 per cent unlikely to return due to having permanent jobs to go to in their home countries, or returning to studies, etc. 46 per cent were uncertain about whether they would return in 2018.’

Around a quarter of workers worked on more than one farm in the UK and there is also transition to other sectors particularly food processing and hospitality. On average, seasonal migrant workers were employed for just over four months per year, corresponding to the key soft fruit harvest period, but the seasonal pattern of crops in Scotland provided an opportunity for workers to work for extended periods.

Photo Credit: pxhere

The post Lack of labour could kill Scottish fruit sector appeared first on Hort News on 29 March 2018.

Southern England Farms trials English workers

Cornish-based vegetable grower Southern England Farms has taken part in the BBC programme Inside Out South West, highlighting the migrant labour crisis by employing a group of young people from Plymouth to pick cabbages.

After four hours the farm’s Eastern European staff had picked nearly 10 times as many cabbages as the young British workers. Jennifer Brunt, 23, who works in sales, said, “This is hard, my hands are too small and they’re cold and my nose is running. My fingers are already frozen and we haven’t even been here for an hour.”

Another woman, 22-year-old Cambridge-graduate Hottie Burrows, had to sit in a tractor to warm her hands up. “Honestly, I was in so much pain but I don’t quit,” she said. “Like last year I ran two marathons if I can do that why can’t I pick cabbages?”

The farm normally employs 500 pickers. Owner Greville Richards commented, “It’s rewarding if you want to get on. Some of the teams that we have here earn very good money. Now we are finding that we are Bulgarian and Romanian, purely because the Lithuanians and the Polish don’t want to come here because there’s nothing in it for them now with the way the exchange rate is.”

One British worker said they would “never” consider the job as a career.

Photo Caption: The farm normally employs 500 pickers.

Photo Credit: Southern England Farms

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UK less attractive destination for foreign workers

The UK is less attractive as a global destination for workers following the Brexit vote according to new research from accountancy firm BDO.

The data shows that having been in second place globally in the index in 2012, the UK has now dropped out of the top five global destinations for workers with a score of 19 per cent. The top five global destinations for workers were the USA (at 24%), followed by Germany, Switzerland, Australia and Canada (all at 20%). The survey also said that 18 per cent of employees around the world would be likely to take up a new full time job in another country for up to two years if it offered them a pay rise.

Respondents were asked to pick their top three work destinations to work. According to BDO, geography, common language, culture and business practices are among the main factors which influence where employees are most likely to move.

Paul Eagland, managing partner at BDO said, “UK businesses are already struggling with a skills shortage. The impact of the EU referendum and uncertainty around a new trade deal is likely to make this worse. It’s absolutely imperative that the Government makes it clear to the world that the UK is still a great place to do business and that we continue to attract the world’s brightest and best to our country.”

Photo Caption: The UK has slipped out the top five work destinations for overseas workers according to a new report.

Photo Credit: pxhere

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Californian lettuce growers embracing robotic harvesting

One of America’s largest salad producers, California-based Taylor Farms, is increasingly using robotics to tackle the twin challenges of labour availability and increasing costs.

The company, which employs a total of 10,000 people, is using robotic harvesting rigs on some crops of Romaine and baby leaf lettuce and it says that the use of robotics is growing in the entire Californian lettuce industry. Around 95 per cent of the company’s Romaine volume is currently harvested with automated harvesters, and trials are being conducted on a number of other crops.

“Harvesting, one of the more difficult in-field jobs to perform, was a natural area of focus for us,” explains Ted Taylor, Head of New Ventures & Business Development. “Over the last eight years we have designed and built advanced machinery to optimize harvest efficiency and drive improved ergonomics for employees. This has truly been a win-win. We have been able to offer better jobs to our field employees, all while driving bottom line performance. We will continue to aggressively pursue automated harvesting functions for all our core products.”

Photo Credit: Taylor Farms

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NFU responds to EU labour claims

The National Farmers’ Union has written to The Times to dispute the impression given by campaign group Migration Watch UK in an article that there is no labour crisis on UK farms.

Under the front page headline: ‘Record number of EU workers in Britain despite Brexit vote’ on 16 November, the newspaper referred to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report showing that the number of EU citizens working in the UK is now at a record high of 2.37 million, despite last year’s referendum result.

Alp Mehmet, vice-chairman of Migration Watch UK, said the figures “show that predictions of a ‘Brexodus’ are nonsense,” adding that they threw into doubt claims that food is being left to rot in the fields due to lack of EU migrant labour.

In her letter, NFU Deputy President Minette Batters wrote: ‘The ONS data on EU citizens that your article refers to on the front page… doesn’t account for seasonal workers that come to the UK for less than 12 months – these make up the majority of the workforce. This is where fruit, veg and flowers growers in particular are already experiencing real difficulty. Our latest survey of recruiters in this area shows a worker shortage of 29% in September, raising the average shortfall for the year to 11%.

‘The British farming sector needs commitments from Government that, where needed, there will be sufficient numbers of permanent and seasonal workers from outside the UK in the run up to the UK leaving the EU and beyond.’

Photo Caption: Alp Mehmet, vice-chairman of Migration Watch UK

Photo Credit: YouTube

The post NFU responds to EU labour claims appeared first on Hort News on 22 November 2017.