Farm labour shortage could hit food prices

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Local produce: Lynx Purchasing urges operators to use UK-caught fish and shellfish
Local produce: Lynx Purchasing urges operators to use UK-caught fish and shellfish
The shortage of migrant labour facing UK farmers could hit supplies and prices of seasonal fruit and vegetables this summer, operators have been warned.

Buying specialist Lynx Purchasing has urged hospitality and catering businesses, such as pubs and restaurants, to monitor supplier prices carefully as the summer season gets under way in its Market Forecast​ report.

Lynx Purchasing managing director Rachel Dobson said: “Our usual advice is to make the most of fresh, seasonal produce, but this summer that comes with an additional warning due to the labour issue."

Seasonal workers

She added: “With fresh salad crops and summer berries now ready for picking, the industry is struggling to recruit enough seasonal workers.

“It is not simply concerns about Brexit, although that is a factor, EU workers now have a wider range of employment options and many have seen wages increase in their own country or can travel somewhere closer to home for seasonal work.

“Without enough migrant workers, there’s a risk that produce is simply left in the fields. Farmers and growers have asked for a commitment from Government that they will have access to sufficient numbers of permanent and seasonal workers, and it is an issue, which needs a speedy resolution.”

Labour shortage

The Market Forecast ​Summer 2018 edition found:

  • With three quarters (75%) of the current UK catch exported, operators who can broaden the range of fish and shellfish featured on menus and specialist boards are at an advantage over those that restrict their offer to the most popular varieties. Using UK-caught species in season such as hake, plaice and lemon sole will help keep menus profitable.
  • Beef will see a seasonal increase in the price of forequarter cuts of about 15% to 20% as the summer barbecue season increases demand for burgers. Pubs and restaurants that can switch menus to cuts such as topside and silverside should get better value. Lamb prices hit a five-year high this spring, with the UK exporting more lamb due to the exchange rate, and New Zealand shipping more to the Far East.
  • The ‘spring flush’, which normally sees milk output rise, was negligible this year thanks to the cold conditions. Butter and cream prices are expected to continue to rise across the summer and into the autumn, as lower dairy production in the UK pushes up demand.
  • Sharp prices rises in vanilla were initially caused by the loss of much of the crop of pods in Madagascar, due to extreme weather, and the situation has been made worse by domestic unrest over control of the remaining supplies. Wholesale prices for vanilla extract, in high demand for ice cream and dessert production, are up by about 30% this year.

Dobson added: “Although the two bursts of freezing weather at the start of spring caught farmers off guard, the supply chain has plenty of experience of extreme conditions.

“Growers have largely caught up, so it would be a shame now if caterers have to reduce the amount of fresh produce featured on summer menus due to higher costs caused by the labour shortage.

“We will be monitoring the situation and advising customers as the season progresses.”

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