As I write, the electioneering is reaching fever pitch with ever more fantastic promises coming from each side prior to them being tempered by an actual manifesto.
The pledge of 10,000 seasonal worker permits for non-EU workers from the conservatives was interesting, they’re short of the mark by about 60,000, we desperately need greater access to the keen people wanting to work here from outside the EU. Labour and the Lib Dems are, as usual, a little short on what agricultural policy might be. On the labour side of course we wouldn’t be farming, as landowners would have been taxed out of business.
The impact of labour shortages and the general shifting of the age and social demographic of seasonal workers had a great impact in an extremely difficult harvest. With some fruit growing regions having 80% of average annual rainfall in six weeks while trying to pick fruit, a very testing job was made even more difficult by those who are perhaps older and less able than their peers of a decade ago would have been. I am full of admiration for the way that the incredible conditions have been managed, many growers having to use temporary road structures throughout their orchards to get fruit moved, this, along with the shortage of staff (20% by the end of September with approximately 20% not arriving in the first place) just made it all the hardest harvest anyone could remember.
What was left behind? Quite a bit of second pick and some gala and Braeburn that just took too long to get to and was over-ripe. If we were to survey for the NFU at this point I think that we would be closer to 20 million apples now (by early October, 16 million apples were calculated to have been left behind, one a day for 44,000 school children for a year). The industry has taken some criticism for ‘wasting fruit’ in this way, but with a shortfall in workers and productivity of those staff who have made it here plus the hard fact that the cost of collecting that fruit that didn’t have a class one sale, or picking it for the sake of a better potential margin, was the right commercial decision.
And what for the year ahead – well Brexit day or not, planning for next year’s harvest is already underway, staff are being contracted with the standing advise to all growers to recruit at least 20% more than you think you need as the no show/early leaver rate is not going to change anytime soon. There is a lot of grubbing and re-planting going on which is really encouraging, with new varieties to help extend the sales season and have a robust handover to the next harvest being a particular focus of investment. There are a good number of new conference, gala and Braeburn orchards going in too, all helping the industry move towards the 60% market share that we aspire to.
So all that remains to be said is Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year, I hope that you have some lovely days with the people you love the most and come January be ready for whatever 2020 brings.