It said that the 2022 fruit and vegetable harvest has been significantly impacted because there are not enough workers to pick the crops.
The survey results showed that £22m worth of fruit and vegetables had been wasted directly because of workforce shortages in the first half of 2022 alone. As the survey represents around a third of the UK horticulture sector, the NFU estimated the overall value of food wasted accumulates to more than £60m.
The NFU said that the results demonstrated the detrimental impact workforce shortages are having on the food and farming sector, resulting in significant crop losses at a time when the country is experiencing the worst cost-of-living crisis in generations.
Crop losses as a result of labour shortages had hit 40% of respondents while 56% reported a fall in production – averaging a 19% reduction across the businesses. The survey also found that growers expected a further fall in production in 2023 of 4.4%.
It found that on average for the 2022 season so far, businesses were experiencing worker shortages of 14% with 17% of workers recruited not turning up to work. They also found that 9% of workers left their contract early.
NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “It’s nothing short of a travesty that quality, nutritious food is being wasted at a time when families across the country are already struggling to make ends meet because of soaring living costs.
“At the same time, the prolonged dry weather and record temperatures have created a really challenging growing environment for our fruit and veg. Every crop is valuable – to the farm business and to the people whose plates they fill. We simply can’t afford to be leaving food unpicked.”
Seasonal Workers Scheme
He also said that with the demand on the Seasonal Workers Scheme expected to increase again next year, it is vital the scheme has the capacity to facilitate the people the sector needs to pick, pack and process the country’s fruit and vegetables.
“This means increasing the number of visas available to meet the sector’s needs and expanding it to a minimum of a five-year rolling scheme to enable growers to have confidence to invest in their businesses – particularly given growth in the horticultural sector is a government ambition set out in the National Food Strategy,” he said.
“This survey has demonstrated just how crucial it is for fruit and veg growers to have access to the workforce they need. Expanding the Seasonal Workers Scheme will play a vital role in enabling that access and ensuring we don’t see this devastating level of food waste next year.”