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Apple and pear producer AC Goatham & Son fears it will not be able to hire enough fruit pickers because of Brexit

By Nicola Jordan

One of the UK’s top fruit growers fears it will not have enough EU seasonal workers to harvest its crops because of Brexit.

AC Goatham & Son, the UK’s largest producer of apples and pears, has 2,650 acres of orchards across Kent and the business contributes more than £13million to the Medway economy.

About 600 pickers are recruited each year working on 28 farms, but a government trial is limiting the number to 2,500 workers for all farms in the UK.

Apples growing at AC Goatham & Son, which has its headquarters in Hoo
Apples growing at AC Goatham & Son, which has its headquarters in Hoo

Goatham’s commercial director Carol Ford said: “We have been working hard behind the scenes and have plans in place in case of a no-deal Brexit.

“We are, however, disappointed that currently on offer from the government for our industry is a pilot scheme which will only allow 2,500 seasonal workers for all farms in the UK, when across the whole industry tens of thousands of people are needed each year in Kent alone.”

Ms Ford said the majority of its workforce comes from within the EU as very few British nationals now applied for roles and even fewer turn up if offered a job.

Factors which discourage UK residents are that most want full-time employment 12 months of the year or the possible impact on any benefits received.

She said: “We have built strong relationships with the people who return annually, who are skilled and hard working and valued members of the team.”

AC Goatham & Son commercial director Carol Ford
AC Goatham & Son commercial director Carol Ford

The season starts with thinning fruit from the trees by hand in June, but the bulk of work takes place in the 12-week harvest period from mid-August.

She said: “Our business will not dry up with the lack of access to non UK workers but it will be much harder to achieve the same levels of success and to continue on our growth journey.

“There is no magic machine to enable farmers to pick British apples and pears.

“This is work which has to be done by hand to ensure the end consumer receives their beautiful quality, tasty and unblemished fruit which also has the ability to be chilled and stored, so that they are available in supermarkets throughout the year.

AC Goatham & Son director Ross Goatham in its £10m packing facility
AC Goatham & Son director Ross Goatham in its £10m packing facility

“Quite simply, British fruit needs people - a lot of people - to provide the British public with what they want and have grown to expect.”

Goatham's, which has its headquarters in Hoo, is an award-winning business run by Clive Goatham and his son Ross.

Its main farm is on the Ratcliffe Highway.

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