Written evidence submitted by Lea Valley Growers' Association (LS0020)

Lea Valley Growers’ Association (LVGA)

EFRA Committee – Evidence – 14th October 2021

1. Background

Lea Valley Growers’ Association (LVGA) represents around 100 business members of the Commercial Horticultural Industry in the Lea Valley; predominantly in the districts of Epping Forest & Harlow, however, membership extends to nurseries throughout the UK.

The Horticultural Industry, located in the Lea Valley has been established since the mid 1800’s.

Fresh produce sales from these businesses exceeds £500 million per annum with over 2,500 employed. Most crops grown are all-year-round or long season crops in high-tech greenhouses.

LVGA horticultural businesses grow over 160 Million Cucumbers & Sweet Peppers per annum (around 75% of the UK crop) along with 20 Million Aubergines and 30,000 tonnes of Tomatoes along with ornamental plants.

2. Shortage of Labour

Since the advent of Brexit, leading to restrictions with access to workers from the EU, problems with labour shortages have become much worse. LVGA members have reported shortfalls of around 30%.

LVGA members have engaged with Job Centre Plus representatives from Hertfordshire & Essex without success as they do not have the candidates who are willing to work in horticulture due to the physical nature of the work.

The Lea Valley has had a minority British workforce since the 1950’s. The majority of Lea Valley Growers are the descendants of Italian Glasshouse workers who were invited to Britain in the 1950’s on three year work permits.

These workers (through their hard work) built up growing businesses over long periods of time and have contributed towards the UK economy for decades.

3. Consequences

Throughout 2021, almost all members have suffered from a lack of available workers.

10% of Cucumber growing members didn’t plant a third crop in July due to a lack of workers.

30% of Cucumber growing members have indicated that they will not plant a crop in January 2022 due to the uncertainty of attaining suitable workers.

The majority of edible growing members will wait until late November before deciding whether to plant at next year for the same reasons.

The food waste and financial loss from being unable to pick fruit this cannot be sustained.

The UK’s self sufficiency in food is currently 60% and this will fall significantly next year without a sustainable workforce.


5. Conclusion and Recommendations

The larger LVGA horticultural businesses have invested heavily in automated systems and are trialling robots and robotic systems with universities and engineering development companies; however, commercially viable robotic pickers are decades away from production.

It is essential that the Government returns to a position where, with minimal rules and regulations, UK agricultural and horticultural businesses can employ non-UK citizens to fill seasonal and non-seasonal positions.

                     • The “pilot project” for 30,000 SAWS workers needs to be increased to a minimum of 70,000 without delay and be inclusive of ornamental plant growers.

                     • The minimum salary to allow workers into the UK should be reduced from £25,600 to £20,000 without delay.