Home   Malling   News   Article

Brexit and war in Ukraine means West Malling salad grower Laurence J Betts struggles to get pickers

A family farm that has been supplying salads since 1930 is struggling to harvest its crops this year because of labour shortages.

Laurence J Betts, based at Church Farm in West Malling, said it was struggling to recruit seasonal labour because of Brexit, compounded by the war in Ukraine.

Nick Ottewell of LJ Betts (57206937)
Nick Ottewell of LJ Betts (57206937)

Nick Ottewell is commercial director at the farm. He said: "It's been a real challenge.

"We should have had 130 workers under the seasonal worker permit scheme for the start of the season at the beginning of May - but we were 40 short.

"They arrived in dribs and drabs over the last month with the last 11 arriving on May 31, but we had lost all that time."

He explained: "Last year, all our seasonal staff came from Ukraine.

"This year, it was not possible for the agencies to recruit anyone from there because of the war."

Seasonal workers busy at LJ Betts in West Malling
Seasonal workers busy at LJ Betts in West Malling

Mr Ottewell said: "In fact we have found out that two of the workers who came to us last year have since died in combat."

Instead, the labour agencies have had to bring over staff from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Mr Ottewell said: "That's all new to us and all new to them.

"For one thing, they are all Muslim and have their own special requirements. The other is that they have no experience."

Mr Ottewell said the farm had tried to follow the government's instruction to recruit British labour. He said: "That's garbage!

"We've had a close relationship with Maidstone Job Centre for the past four years. People come for an interview because they have to show they are looking for work to keep their benefits, but not one person in four years has been interested in working here."

Similar staffing problems have also recently been reported by the Winterwood Fruit Farm in Maidstone.

The home Secretary Priti Patel: 'Not listening' Pic: PA
The home Secretary Priti Patel: 'Not listening' Pic: PA

Mr Ottewell was scathing in his criticism of the government.

He said: "The farming industry has been telling them for years that this was going to happen, but they don't do anything until there is a crisis."

"Last year we spent the whole season with 15% fewer workers than we needed. That meant that everyone had to work 15% harder and longer hours. Everybody in the industry is absolutely shattered and the situation is likely to get worse as people leave farming because of the stress.

"Priti Patel (the Home Secretary) is just not listening to the industry."

Mr Ottewell declined to estimate how much of his crop was going unharvested. He said: "I don't want to be too sensationalist."

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More