A world of paperwork and regulation
We, along with all other horti-agricultural businesses in South Holland, have since the turn of the millennium, relied on eastern European workers to do the manual tasks on the farm. This has never been because they are “cheap” but because they are much more productive than hard to find, UK-born workers.
There has been much talk in the press about the low productivity of the British economy and, along with car wash workers, farming has been blamed for using imported labour, rather than investing in high-tech machinery operated by just a few well-paid technicians.
I suspect low productivity is much more due to the highly-regulated regime we now live in. Most of my time is spent in the office completing paperwork that didn’t exist when I started my career back in the late 1970s.
The RPA, EA, DEFRA, NRoSO, BASIS, AHDB, Red Tractor, SEDEX are just a few of the organisations that farmers will recognise that regulate our businesses. All of these organisations will have well paid CEOs, backroom staff, office cost, plus pensions etc that have to be paid for.
Probably 30 per cent of the cost of every potato or bunch of daffodils that leaves the farm is made up of costs that didn’t exist 39 years ago. So just to stand still, our productivity has needed to improve substantially.
Technology will keep replacing labour in controlled environments such as glasshouses and packhouses, but it will be some time before robots can work outside in all weather conditions.
The pool of hard-working eastern European labour has increased the productivity of my farm substantially and if BREXIT reduces this availability, our productivity will most definitely fall.