UK flower growers hit by post-Brexit labour shortages

UK growers of flowers and ornamental plants have warned that millions of blooms will go unharvested this year after the multibillion pound sector was not included in a scheme to admit overseas farm workers after Brexit.

Alex Newey, owner of Varfell Farms in Cornwall, the UK’s largest daffodil grower, said he was deciding which parts of this year’s crop to leave to rot after a recruitment shortfall. He currently has 400 pickers at work on the daffodil harvest, compared with his normal 750.

The vast majority of picking has for several decades been carried out by overseas workers, mostly from eastern Europe. EU citizens with settled or pre-settled status — giving them a right to stay in the UK — can work on British farms, but Newey said there were not enough such migrants, while only food growers can use the government’s seasonal workers pilot scheme to bring in further overseas labour.

“The scheme has to be adapted to include ornamental horticulture or big swaths of ornamental farming will go to waste,” said Newey. Millions of bunches of flowers will be left unpicked at Varfell, he added, though it is too early to say exactly how many. The farm normally harvests 500m stems from its 3,500 acres each year.

Fruit and vegetable growers have welcomed the expansion of the seasonal workers pilot scheme to enable 30,000 labourers to travel temporarily to UK farms in 2021 after Brexit ended free movement of people with the EU. Workers using the scheme do not have to fulfil points-based UK visa criteria now used for most migrants.

Newey said: “We need more pickers or we’ve got to find something else to farm. We’re not going to put millions of pounds’ worth of bulbs in the ground just to watch them flower and wither.”

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