The Covid-19 nightmare may have handed UK farming an opportunity to resolve a major Brexit threat – loss of EU labour. Let’s make sure we give our new ‘land army’ a good experience this summer, says George Dunn, chief executive of the TFA.
Inadvertently, the Covid-19 nightmare may have just handed us an opportunity to assist in resolving a major Brexit threat.
The potential loss of tens of thousands of migrant workers from Eastern Europe coming here to pick our fruit, vegetables and other crops in the summer, has been a huge cause for concern to UK farmers and growers.
Before the current pandemic struck, and the Government’s necessary restrictions to control its spread which has shut down large parts of the economy, suggestions that British workers would be able to fill that post-Brexit void in labour would have been judged at somewhere between a pipedream and fantasy.
Now we hear of an emerging land army apparently willing and able to step up to the plate to ensure our fruit and veg is harvested and made available to the consuming public.
The launch of the ‘Pick for Britain’ web portal is a significant step forward in turning enthusiasm into practical reality, but farmers and growers have a major responsibility to ensure this works.
To be honest, it has been disappointing to see some farmers and growers on national media talking in not the most glowing terms about their expectations for how British workers will fare in their fields.
Suggestions surrounding the need to suspend the minimum wage legislation are also not exactly helpful.
Now is a time for us to ensure all British workers are given the best experience they can possibly have this summer in the hope that many will return in future years, and those who go back to their usual employment can spread good news stories to encourage others to come into the sector.
Retailers too have a massive responsibility here.
This is a whole supply chain issue and supermarkets must not play fast and loose with growers at this critical time.
Retailers must deliver fair returns to growers and ensure they maintain clear lines of communication, avoiding last-minute changes and cancellations to orders.
At the end of the day, growers will only be able to look after their workers if those growers are in turn adequately and fairly rewarded by retailers.
Having been handed the monopoly on delivering food to consumers, retailers must be held to account by the Government to ensure they are acting in ways which support rather than undermine the supply chain.
Winston Churchill has been attributed with the quote ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’.
There will be much to learn from the current pandemic which should feed directly into our post-Brexit policy making for food and farming, not least in the area of food security.
A sensible Government may even come to the House of Commons with its own amendments to the Agriculture Bill at Report Stage – whenever that might be.
However, the industry too now has the opportunity to make a significant step in resolving the post-Brexit labour conundrum for itself and we must not waste the opportunity to do so.
George can be found tweeting at @georgewdunn