24 February 2020
To whom it may concern – open letter.
We are writing to express extreme disappointment and quite frankly disbelief with the Government’s recent announcement of the proposed new points-based immigration system. If it is implemented, it will affect the future, successful operation of our business and risk the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of our employees and also those in the businesses that support and supply ours.
And don’t forget here at Goatham’s, we grow 1 in 3 of the British apples and pears eaten in the UK each year, so our inability to source a seasonal workforce will cause a massive disruption to the future supply of British fresh produce and food across the UK.
The British public are willing to back British farmers and growers and to buy British produce and yet this new immigration system will deny them the opportunity to eat our sustainable, healthy, safe, quality British apples and pears and this is why:
• We employ 800-1,000 seasonal workers each year across our 25 farms in Medway and Kent. Seasonal roles start in June with hand thinning operations in the orchards, followed by harvest from August to November. These seasonal roles support the hundreds of full-time roles within our business at Flanders Farm, Hoo.
• Within this Government there is a misconception that horticulture and food production is a low skilled and low paid industry. As an example, our seasonal harvest workers spend an average of 12 weeks working across our farms each year and earn a guaranteed £8.21ph (the current national minimum wage) but on average they earn more than this at £9.45ph.
• Picking fruit is a skilled job within our business as we only sell quality, fresh eating apples and pears. Skill is required to select, pick and handle fruit to the highest food safety and quality standards, so that it can be placed into cold storage in the best possible condition. This allows us to supply British families with our quality fruit for longer. Picking fruit is hard physical work and the person doing it needs to be strong and motivated. This enables our business to deliver a sustainable, safe, secure and vital link in the UK food chain.
• We only advertise seasonal jobs here in the UK and on our social media platforms and last year for example we attended a number of careers fairs in Kent and nationally to raise awareness of opportunities within our business and the wider sector with our sponsorship of the National Fruit Show education programme. Despite these efforts we get a handful of applications from British people for seasonal jobs each year and once again almost 100% of our seasonal workforce for the 2019 harvest came from the EU.
• We are a responsible employer and all of our seasonal workers come from the EU with 60% of them returning year on year. This is because we look after them, provide training, comfortable, clean and safe accommodation and transport along with many other benefits.
Our business only operates with the flexibility and continuity which a hard-working and willing seasonal workforce provides. This is also one of the key reasons for the successful growth of the British fruit industry in recent years, which has allowed growers like us to be competitive and to be able to fight back against imported fruit.
We have worked hard to automate our business and to scale production to compete with overseas growers but there is currently no technology available now or even on the horizon that can replace the seasonal harvest workforce that we are reliant on.
We are extremely proud that in 2019 we were the first and are the only British grower to be able to supply the UK market with British Royal Gala apples for 48 weeks of the year and with British Bramley apples for 52 weeks. As our confidence grows, we have now started exporting our fruit to represent Great Britain and great British quality abroad. This is under our own brand and under the union flag, thanks to the confidence of having a stable Conservative Government in place and we did this just 5 days after exiting the EU. This can only be continued with access to a seasonal workforce.
It is quite simply staggering that it is the same Conservative Government who is now happy to preside over what could be the demise of a successful fresh food production industry by not continuing to support grower direct businesses to help source the seasonal labour they depend on. Put simply without continued access to seasonal harvest workers we have no business and our business is one that significantly contributes to the local and national economy, with a current annual GVA of £28.5m.
Whilst it is welcome news that the Government has increased the trial scheme for seasonal agricultural workers from 2,500 to 10,000 per annum for 2020, we don’t know what will happen for 2021 and beyond. This still falls woefully short by tens of thousands of the actual number of seasonal workers needed in 2020 and every year by this industry. To put that into context it needs 70-80,000 seasonal horticultural workers each year alone.
If we are to put the great back into Great Britain, this Government has to listen to us here at Goatham’s before it is too late and a food ‘crisis’ is caused where British crops such as the 400 million apples and pears we grow each year will be left unpicked.
And it isn’t just us who are saying this, read this excellent letter by Tim O’Malley Of Nationwide Produce. We need action before we have no safe British food crops.
I look forward to hearing from you and understanding what you are going to do, to support our business and great British food production.
We welcome the opportunity as always to educate and to show you and your colleagues how our business operates so please do not hesitate to contact us to arrange to visit or for more detailed information.
The Chairman and Directors of AC Goatham & Son