Because of a massive shortfall in farmworkers an “unprecedented” amount of food to be thrown into landfills in 2021.
Growers say they have been forced to throw away millions of pounds of produce, including blueberries, raspberries, apples, salad leaves and tomatoes.
One British salad grower reported that around £1m of premium salad leaves – a third of their annual crop – had been used to make "very expensive manure" because food processing plants do not have enough staff.
The food industry as a whole is now estimated to need an additional half a million workers to plant and harvest food, pack it, process it and deliver it to retailers, restaurants and peoples’ homes.
Fruit and vegetable growers had 34 per cent fewer workers than they needed at the peak of the harvesting season in July and August.
According to Ali Capper, an apple grower and chair of the NFU’s horticulture board, “Businesses are reporting worker shortages of between 15 and 40 per cent. When it’s 15 per cent everyone rolls up their sleeves and works harder. When it’s 40, you simply have to walk by and have to let produce rot in the fields. You have no choice.”
Shoppers are being advised to brace for more empty shelves and significant food price inflation as UK production falls and more goods are imported, increasing the country’s carbon footprint.
Fruit-picking robots are far less efficient and more expensive than human beings and, even with significant investment, it is likely to be around five to seven years until they are a viable alternative.