You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

British farmer moves fruit-growing to China over Brexit uncertainty

The Guardian logo The Guardian 6 days ago Lisa O'Carroll
Workers at Haygrove farms: Haygrove farms are asking the prime minister to urgently put a seasonal workers scheme in place. © The Guardian Haygrove farms are asking the prime minister to urgently put a seasonal workers scheme in place.

One of the biggest growers of berries in the UK is moving part of its business to China because it cannot guarantee it will find enough fruit pickers available to work.

Up to 200 seasonal jobs have gone at Haygrove’s farm in Ledbury, Herefordshire, and some of the company’s raspberry and blueberry-growing will be relocated to Yunnan province in China because of uncertainty over migrant labour due to Brexit.

Angus Davison, the founder of Haygrove, said: “In the UK we employ 230 full-time and 1,150 seasonal workers, but we are now reducing that to 950 because of Brexit nervousness.” The company has a turnover of £101m.

“We are already out of time,” he says, explaining that he can’t afford to wait for Theresa May to reveal her immigration policy as this year’s harvest was planned last year.

Davison has written to Theresa May, pleading with her to take urgent action. “Unless a seasonal workers scheme is put in place, you must expect to see the steep decline of this significant rural employer and source of food,” he wrote.

“It is appreciated that treating one industry differently to another is difficult; however agriculture, unlike construction and hospitality, can be exported. If enough people are not made available to do the work, the work can be taken to the people.”

The prime minster has not replied. 

As farmers across the country warned of the risks of planting food that could rot in the fields, Davison said he had to act because of “super-tight” profit margins.

“We are reducing our employment this year by 200 people, 20% of our workforce, in anticipation of problems we can’t afford and we are investing in China instead.”

He said May’s vow to end freedom of movement from March next year would have disastrous consequences for farmers dependent on seasonal EU workers.

If he can’t get the migrant workers, he will have to move more of his business overseas, or close down altogether, he warns.

“I would feel very, very sad for the people here, after 30 years of building together. But I would quickly move our activities abroad, with those that wanted to come. We’re not stuck here, we live on planet earth.”

“If we don’t get the migrant workers for 2019, we can run it for a year [on existing plants], and the year after we would close.” 

Farmers up and down the country, along with the National Farmers Union, have been urging the government to reintroduce a seasonal agriculture workers scheme to keep the flow of pickers coming from eastern Europe.

The agriculture minister, George Eustice, and the recently moved Home Office minister Brandon Lewis replied to Davison’s local MP after he made representations. They promised action, but not until the autumn when the Migration Advisory Committee report on all sectors of the economy is published.

“I do not think the new MAC paper is worth the paper it is written on,” said Davison, echoing calls elsewhere in business for the report to be brought forward.

Davison said the margins were so tight in the supply chain from farm to fork that he could not afford to “wait and see” on immigration policy.

Romanian farm manager Catalin Constandis, 35, says he hasn’t employed a British worker for two years.Photograph: Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

Catalin Constandis, a Haygrove farm manager, said British workers did not want to pick fruit because it was too physically demanding.

“In my team in the past two years, no English people have worked here. We had some graduates once; they didn’t last a day,” said Constandis, who has just become a British citizen.

Davison has already started planting blueberries and raspberries in the Yunnan province in China. The Yunnan governor had a “remarkable understanding” of the blueberry crop and, unlike the British government, instilled confidence and positivity in his business, he said.

He said he had implored May to “learn from the Chinese”, adding: “I think that it is sad that our prime minister does not seem to understand fundamental food business realities.”

NOW SEE: Britain to world: Please pretend we're not leaving EU

AdChoices
AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon