Brexit has led to lower harvests and fewer local produce on UK supermarket shelves, farm leaders have warned.
Kent farmers have told a group of visiting MPs that it has become easier to import certain fruits than to harvest them due to strict limits on the number of EU seasonal workers.
Winterwood Farms, an agricultural giant based in the county, said its UK farms had been forced to leave 8% of their fruit crop unharvested and would plant less in future.
Stephen Taylor, chief executive of Winterwood in Maidstone, said the government’s advice to replace lost EU labor with British workers and robots showed how “disconnected” ministers had become.
“The flow of people from Europe to work in the summer has been down every year since Brexit, especially the last two summers, and as a direct result we are now growing less and importing more,” he said. .
Calling for more flexible seasonal work visas, he added: ‘The government could still allow the same people to harvest – but they inexplicably decided to stifle the industry instead.’
Labor MP Hilary Benn led a delegation of MPs and industry leaders to visit Winterwood farms in Kent to see the difficulties they are facing due to labor shortages.
They were told the problem had affected the whole agricultural sector – resulting in less fresh and more expensive imported fruit in UK supermarkets to cover the shortfall.
Britain’s Trade and Business Commission delegation, which is looking at the impact of Brexit, has also heard that British farmers’ off-season trade has also been hit hard.
Farmers could previously sell any surplus from overseas operations in EU markets, but new Brexit red tape means they now have to pay to get rid of that fruit.
Mr Benn, co-convener of the commission, said the government’s immigration and trade policies “raise questions about our food security”.
The Labor MP added: ‘It is essential that ministers urgently consider the introduction of more flexible visas for seasonal workers and negotiate better trading terms on fresh produce with our European neighbours.’
Mr Benn and co-host Peter Norris have written to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Environment Secretary George Eustice asking for urgent meetings on issues affecting UK farms.
Naomi Smith, chief executive of the internationalist campaign group Best for Britain, said Boris Johnson’s ministers may have to put up with “more European berries in their Pimms this summer”.
She added: “The government’s insufficient Brexit deal, far from being ready for the oven, actually means quality local produce is left to rot and leaves UK supermarkets with no choice but to import. , which means consumers have less choice, less fresh produce and higher prices.”
A recent report by academics from the LSE Center for Economic Performance found that Brexit had caused a 6% rise in food prices in Britain.
The study showed “a clear and robust impact of Brexit-induced trade frictions on rising food prices for UK consumers” as families continued to grapple with the cost of living crisis.