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Deeping St Nicholas farmer says cheap food will be off the menu

A leading farmer says ‘sensational’ national headlines about £62k-a-year cabbage picking jobs need to be taken with a ‘whole tub of salt’.

South Holland NFU branch chairman Chris Carter said there is good money to be earned from farm work – but that a rise in prices caused by a labour shortage will spell higher food prices for us all.

National news outlets recently seized on an advert that suggested people could earn up to £30 an hour for picking cabbages in Lincolnshire.

Farmer Chris Carter, chairman of the South Holland branch of the National Farmers' Union.
Farmer Chris Carter, chairman of the South Holland branch of the National Farmers' Union.

They calculated that this, if replicated for eight hours a day for a full year, could mean £62,000 – although they accepted that given this is a piecework rate and seasonal work, the top figure was highly unlikely.

Mr Carter said he views such reports with a ‘whole tub of Saxo’, adding: “Yes there is reasonable income to be made but it’s not all year round work.”

However, he added: “I think the reputation is that it’s poor money, it’s not poor money.

The cabbage picker story on the front of Friday's Daily Star. (51741969)
The cabbage picker story on the front of Friday's Daily Star. (51741969)

“People are aware it’s not the most exciting work so they compensate by topping up the wages.

“Farm work is not badly paid but it’s not for everybody.

“You don’t get something for nothing – if you put the effort in then you get reasonably well paid. That’s why people do come here from a long way away to pick these things.”

As with HGV drivers, there is a competitive market for wages at the moment – with companies upping their rates to try to attract workers and get around what Mr Carter described as the ‘spectre of labour shortages’.

He said the knock on effect of this will be felt by consumers in shops and an end to an era of cheap food.

He said: “There has to come a time, I’m afraid, when that’s got to be a memory.

“Sooner or later there will be price increases.”

Mr Carter added: “It’s a serious issue and one that has to be addressed somewhere along the line.”

The latest knock-on effect of the driver shortage saw widespread issues with fuel supply in the last week – and prompted the Government to offer up temporary Visas for overseas workers.

While some have called for this to be extended beyond lorry drivers and poultry workers, Mr Carter is sceptical about the success of this measure.

He said: “Will they come for that period of time? I doubt it.

“I think there has been a lot of antipathy towards foreign labour in the last few years and I don’t think they are going to be rushing to come back here for three months.”

As reported in the Word on the Ground column in our sister paper, the Lincolnshire Free Press, the NFU has co-funded an independent report on supply chain challenges.

It is asking for a 12-month Covid Recovery Visa so that critical roles can be recruited.

It also wants the seasonal worker scheme to be made permanent and expanded to include ornamentals.

The NFU says its sector is 500,000 people short, with an average vacancy rate of 13%.

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