Published: 23:47, 15 September 2021
| Updated: 07:17, 16 September 2021
The country's biggest glasshouse grower of salad crops has been forced to "trash" £320,000 worth of tomatoes due to a lack of pickers and drivers, says a Kent MP.
The difficulties facing Thanet Earth at Manston near Ramsgate were raised by North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale today at Prime Minister's Questions.
MP Sir Roger Gale talking about the issue
He said: "We are not going to blaze a trail to self-sufficiency by building over our finest agricultural land which has to stop.
"On 'Back British Farming' day we're in harvest time but, Mr Speaker, all is not safely gathered in.
"In three weeks, Thanet Earth in my constituency, the largest glasshouse company in the country growing tomatoes, has had to trash £320,000 worth of produce because of no pickers and no drivers.
"Because of the lack of labour force, the crops are rotting in our fields and on our trees."
He called on the Prime Minister to "introduce immediately" a Covid recovery visa so this year's crops are not lost.
Boris Johnson agreed that Sir Roger was right to address the problems in the supply train, adding that the government was "taking steps" and the seasonal agricultural scheme would be used to ensure that British farms get the labour they need.
Thanet Earth specialises in growing salad crops all year round, including cucumbers and peppers in seven greenhouses each the size of 10 football pitches.
It produces about 400 million tomatoes, 30 million cucumbers and 24 million peppers every year.
Chris Butler, managing director of Thanet Earth said: "This loss comes because our crop, whilst in production all year round, has seasonal peaks in production.
"Additional workers are needed at peak times to ensure we can pick and pack the tomatoes and it’s this seasonal labour that is most needed at present.
"This crop should be in our supermarkets, providing consumers with delicious, nutritious, British-grown products..."
"The current shortage of HGV drivers is also impacting our ability to get the packed product distributed in good time on to retail distribution centres.
The ‘wasted’ tomatoes have either been redistributed through local charities and the FareShare network or have been routed to compost production.
"This crop should be in our supermarkets, providing consumers with delicious, nutritious, British-grown products at a time when they’re at their seasonal best.
"To prevent further unnecessary and avoidable waste I add my voice to those calling for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Scheme (which permits temporary workers from overseas to come to the UK and work on British farms) to be expanded and made permanent, and I support new initiatives such as the proposed Covid Recovery Visa scheme that would enable our business and the wider food supply chain to recruit the workers we need in the short term."