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Crops may rot in fields as workers abandon Island

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WORKERS from African countries and Ukraine could be brought in to harvest the Island’s crops, as farmers are struggling to recruit staff, Jersey’s largest producer has said.

Seasonal workers planting potatoes. Jersey farmers could be looking further afield for staff

Brexit, which has caused a ten per cent drop in the value of the pound, along with an improving economy in their home country has been attributed to fewer Polish workers – who in recent years have provided the majority of seasonal labour – choosing to work in Jersey this year.

Charlie Gallichan, of Woodside Farms, said that growers were ‘trying to keep their heads above water until they get reinforcements’ but added that the current shortage of seasonal labour could result in crops being left in the fields.

Jersey farmers, along with those in the UK and western Europe, are now competing to find staff in a shrinking job market, and Mr Gallichan said that he was now considering bringing in staff from African countries and Ukraine on special permits that would limit the time they spent here and where they could work.

This was how farm workers were sourced in the days before the EU freedom of movement opened up job opportunities across borders.

‘There would be quite a lot of red tape to get through before we could start sourcing workers from any of those countries but we need to have ready and able pools of labour, and people from these countries want to come,’ he said.

The Trinity farmer, whose business supplies produce to supermarkets, wholesalers and the hospitality sectors in both bailiwicks, added: ‘We are desperately short of labour, so we are struggling to do everything we need to do, as this is our busiest time of the year.

‘We are trying to harvest vegetables and flowers and have also starting planting potatoes but we will be losing crops before long if we don’t get more staff.

‘We have already lost some daffodils and we are just trying to keep our heads above the water until we get reinforcements.’

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Mr Gallichan is banking on the arrival of a group of Romanians next week, who are being brought to the Island by the Jersey Farmers Union.

Its president, Peter Le Maistre, says in addition to the overall shortage of workers, many of those due to return to the Island this year were delayed because of disruption caused by the recent bad weather to ferry sailings from St Malo.

‘Farmers are expecting more staff to arrive over the weekend and next week and we shall have the first group of 30 Romanians coming in next week to work at Woodside and on other farms,’ he said.

The Island’s farmers have relied on seasonal labour for more than 100 years. Until the 1960s they came largely from Brittany for the potato season. The French workers were replaced by Portuguese, mostly from Madeira, who were succeeded by Polish people after Poland joined the EU in 2004.

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‘There are lots of reasons why the Poles don’t want to come here anymore,’ Mr Gallichan said. ‘They now prefer to go to Germany, where the wages are higher and they can go home for the weekend.

‘But the major reason is the low exchange rate since Brexit, which has seen a ten to 15 per cent decrease in the value of the pound, so wages are a significant factor. Another significant factor is that the Polish economy is picking up, so there are more opportunities at home for them.

‘We have got a problem but this is an industry-wide problem in the UK and Europe rather than a Jersey problem and we have got to try to find a solution in the long term.’

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