‘Farming’s future at risk if labour crisis is not solved’
FARMERS are planting crops they may not be able to harvest this winter as a shortage of migrant labour threatens the future of farming in Jersey, one of the Island’s biggest growers has warned.
Several leading growers fear that fields of vegetables may be left to rot as they continue to struggle to find workers who are willing to come to the Island.
And Jersey’s second-biggest mixed-vegetable growers – Christine and Didier Hellio, who farm in Vinchelez, St Ouen – this week had to abandon planting leek seedlings after workers left the Island at short notice.
Jersey Farmers Union president Peter Le Maistre said many members were concerned about the future.
‘They are concerned about planting crops when they may not have the staff to pick them and farmers are worried about being able to continue farming without a reliable labour force,’ he said.
‘If you do not have the staff you can’t run a business – and that is the long and the short of it.’
He attributes the migrant labour shortage – which is also causing serious issues for UK farmers – to a number of factors, such as a ten per cent drop in the value of the pound since the Brexit referendum, and an improving economy in Poland where most farm labour has come from over the past ten years.
‘We have lost two workers this week and now we are down to six,’ Mrs Hellio said. ‘We just don’t have the staff to plant crops at the moment, and unless the Jersey Farmers Union is able to find a new source of workers we will not have enough staff to pick them when they are ready to harvest.
‘The politicians just don’t want to know and they don’t realise what is going on in the industry or seem to care about what is going to happen to the land or to the Island’s farmers,’ she added.
The JFU reported a shortage of workers in February after three quarters of the 75 Romanians brought to the Island in January returned home, leaving some daffodil growers unable to pick their flowers.
Farmers were relying on Romanian employment agencies to help plug a gap caused by the loss of Polish workers, who for the past ten years have filled the majority of more than 1,000 seasonal farming jobs.
Faced with an ever-shrinking labour market, the JFU asked Home Affairs in February to consider relaxing the Island’s immigration laws to allow farmers to source labour from outside the EU. Island farmers have been making inquiries in Ukraine and African countries, such as Rwanda and Kenya.
‘We were told by Home Affairs when we met them in February to look at countries such as Greece and Spain where there are high levels of unemployment to see if people would want to come to work on Jersey farms, and we have also been looking at getting labour from other countries, including Croatia and the Baltic states,’ Mr Le Maistre said.
‘But a lot of unemployment in these countries is among managerial and professional people who do not want to come to Jersey to pick flowers or potatoes.
‘The JFU is looking for new sources of labour every day but we are not getting anywhere and we have have been doing the same for the last six months.’
Five months after meeting Home Affairs, he says the situation is getting worse. Now the JFU has to submit another report and start discussion afresh after Constable Len Norman replaced Senator Kristina Moore as minister.