Early August saw me be brave and take a train to the far side of Belgium. Not brave in the big sense but I didn’t go interrailing as a teen so have not travelled on trains on the continent. What an eye opener that was – hopping on at Ashford, a quick change in Brussels onto a service that was clean, frequent, on time with an easy to navigate ticket system and only one operator. So different to my trip to the midlands last week, 6 bits of card, three different operators, two delays and the delightful fug of BO on the tube…
Why was I in Belgium? I was attending one of my favourite fruit events, Prognosfruit and the World Apple and Pear congress. Representatives of all the major apple and pear growing nations met to discuss the crop prospects for the year, sales patterns, consumer trends and to share concerns over the ongoing trade issues with Russia, the USA vs China and, of course, Brexit. As an overview, our troubles are largely the same with all European countries who shared concerns over the impact of extreme heat, severe weather impact, the enormous European crop last year and its depressing affect on both price, stocks and confidence. The 2018 crop was the largest recorded with 13.275 million tonnes being the final total, thankfully in 2019 we have a crop that is just under what the European market requires at 10.5 million tonnes. The stocks of continental 2018 fruit have had some challenges with pressures and there are stocks of processing fruit in Poland that will take them through to October which could mean a rocky start for their growers.
A number of nations are substantially down on their average volumes because of weather early in the season, Poland, Germany and Italy suffering from repeated frost, hail and snow during blossom. With high winds further reducing the crop its been a very challenging season altogether. Here in the UK it’s a good crop with a volume that meets the need of our market, the quality is good too and with the warm weather helping with sugar development and colour its one that will please consumers. We are now far less attractive to the importers, it opens up opportunities in our marketplace as young orchards come into full production, Brexit and the labour challenge notwithstanding, we have a great crop for our consumers.
With labour it is hard to articulate my difficulty understanding how we have got to this position on the end of freedom of movement. We are left unable to offer this year’s workers a job next year. The leave to return confusion means that we may not be able to bring them back within 12 months – our entire, trained, skilled workforce, the reason we can deliver all this fantastic fruit to British consumers, now blocked. What we need is 30,000 seasonal worker permits for non EU workers, I hope you’ve all lobbied your MPs to help while they still can! As I write this the news has broken that the Prime Minister appears to be intending to prorogue Parliament in the second week of sitting. Apparently to use the instrument of the queen’s speech to validate his all or bust approach to forcing through leaving and getting his own way by closing down parliamentary, democratic opportunities to prevent a no deal Brexit. In my opinion this is an outrageous abuse of Parliamentary rules.