Rotting harvest due to labour shortage

Categories: Salford Business School

Logistics expert from the University of Salford Business School, Dr Jonathan Owens, comments as famers warn they are facing a shortage of workers to get the harvest in.

Dr Owens said: “It appears the Covid-19 crisis is may well deliver what Brexit did not, a poor harvest.  That is if Britons do not answer the 21st century Churchillian call to arms and “Bring Home Britain’s Harvest” before it rots in the fields. 

“What’s happened to put us in this dilemma?  Britain’s food production has been very dependent for many years on seasonal migrant labour from the EU, with farmers relying heavily on Eastern European countries for their manual labour.  However, since Brexit many of these workers have returned home in their droves, those that remain tell their families there are almost guaranteed jobs here in the UK, but many simply do not want to come. 

“Now, they cannot come because of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and there is simply not enough of them around the country to bring in the harvest.  Some of these lessons were about in 2017 in the paper “Feeding the Nation: Labour Constraints” by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select committee. It recognised that over thirty percent working permanently in the agriculture sector are from overseas and this did not account for seasonal workers.

“We must go it alone and gather our own harvest or face the stark possibility of food rationing the longer the global lockdown goes on.  If we look back to history, as a nation we used to do this for generations, and it is still in living memory!

“Maintaining and sustaining levels of productivity is crucial especially if the output from the harvest is going to maintain supplies to supermarkets and other food outlets throughout the country.  For harvesting speed is a critical performance measure.  Getting food products from the ground quickly and with minimal waste, then to the marketplace, in order to maintain a constant supply as not to bring about destabilisation is vital in feeding a nation.”

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