GROWERS ARE facing their 'darkest hour' amid the ongoing labour crisis, with the financial scar of millions of crop losses only paling in comparison to the detrimental impact stress is having on mental health.

On-farm labour and haulage driver shortages are leaving broccoli and cauliflower growers in the East of Scotland with losses of between £10,000 and £90,000 every day. To date, 5.5 million broccoli heads and 1.5 million cauliflower heads have reportedly gone to waste.

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Managing director of East of Scotland Growers, Andrew Faichney, told The SF that his growers are having to make assessments in the coming week about next year’s harvest, but aren’t in the frame of mind to do so.

“This has been an emotional rollercoaster for our growers, and many are not themselves and can’t think rationally with the stress they are facing," he said. "We are asking people to make decisions in the coming weeks about what to grow next year and no one has the headspace to process that – it is the darkest hour for growers. We have had no clarity around whether we will be in this situation next year, which is breaking the sector’s emotional resilience.”

He added that his growers have ploughed in £1.4million in inputs this season which have been written off as losses. If the situation remains the same for the remainder 60% of the season, he said they will be looking at a 30-35% reduction in financial income, but he feared it will be worse, predicting that the situation will deteriorate.

“That is catastrophic for a sector that works in the low end of single digit profit margins,” he continued, pointing out that the last time the sector faced losses of such a scale was in 2012 when flooding wiped out a third of their produce.

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“That was a difficult year, but you could see the damage, which allowed growers to process it and move on. The current crisis is hard to swallow because we have good crops on the farm, we have customers, but we don’t have the labour or the lorries to move it. It is so hard to process on both an emotional and logical level.

“The industry needs to know, and know now, that there will be the ability to recruit an able and willing workforce throughout the supply chain. Purely looking at the on-farm scenario, we are completely reliant on the UK government increasing the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme numbers immediately, in order to allow the visa process to be done in a timely manner.”

James Withers of Scotland Food and Drink told a Holyrood committee that it had been the toughest 18 months in 20 years for farming, fishing and the food and drink sector.

He reported that post-Brexit, 1.3m people from overseas had left the UK and that new immigration rules were making it extremely difficult for many to come back in to aid the labour crisis.

“The Immigration policy for the jobs we need people to come for is at best ineffective, or at worst deemed hostile by very people we need to bring in. The shortage occupation list doesn’t cover many of the roles we require. It will allow ballet dancers to come in to UK but not butchers. The single most important step the home office could take is to provide short term emergency Covid visa’s for the next 12 months so we can extend our recruitment stretch in to the EU.”