Farmer fury erupts at border rules as 500 tonnes of beetroot left to rot in Brexit torment

Keir Starmer questioned over his silence on failures of Brexit

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Since leaving the EU in 2020, the UK is now free to design its own agricultural policy to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, under existing Brexit border rules between Britain and the bloc, farmers have said their stock is rotting without sales.

Will Woodhall, who grows beetroot and spring onions alongside cereals at his farm in Penkridge, Staffordshire, said he expects to lose up to £90,000 after border rules introduced in January have seen firms in the EU look elsewhere, particularly for perishable goods.

Mr Woodhall said he expected to turn the crop into compost instead, and said of a sale: “I was driving down the road and got a phone call.

“I was expecting it to be, ‘Can we have five more loads please?’ but it was ‘That’s it – no more homes for it.’

“I’ve been trying to get rid of it left, right and centre, trying food schemes and various things. But haulage is an issue and no-one wants to pay for it.”

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Woodhall said after Brexit, he had anticipated problems and so had grown a smaller crop.

When business boomed, he decided to increase production again, only to be suddenly cut off.

Mr Woodhall is now having to consider a new plan, and believes it is possible his composted beetroot could enrich the soil for barley.

Used for beer, he believes the crop could prove more of a stable market.

It comes after a report from MPs on the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warned on Wednesday labour shortages could cause “permanent” damage across the food and farming sector.

It said that as of August last year the sector had “potentially in excess of 500,000 job” shortages.
The report continued: “If not resolved swiftly, they threaten to shrink the sector permanently with a chain reaction of wage rises and price increases reducing competitiveness, leading to food production being exported abroad and increased imports.”

MPs were also “frustrated by the reluctance of Government to engage with the industry over labour shortages,” adding “despite valiant attempts by the industry, ministers failed to understand the issues and even sought to pass the blame onto the sector”.

The MPs report called for a review of the Skilled Workers Visa scheme, which they said has hurt the farming sector after Brexit.

Neil Parish, committee chair and Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said ministers “must use the powers available – including over immigration policy – to support the sector”.

He warned: “Otherwise, we will export our food production and import more of our food.”

He also told the Government risked failing to live up to the promise to increase consumption of British produce unless urgent action was taken.

Mr Parish added: “I want us to produce more food, I want Brexit to be a success. I think that we can actually take this opportunity.

“We can plant more vegetables, we can grow more salads. But the farmers and the growers won’t plant them if they haven’t got the labourers to pick them.”

Matt Culley, who runs an arable farm in Hampshire, told the New Statesman, he will ration his fertiliser, planting more crops such as peas and beans, which need less nitrogen, and fewer cereals such as wheat

British farmers use around one million tonnes of manufactured nitrogen each year, to grow crops for human consumption, and grass for animals to eat, according to Anthony Hopkins, chief crops adviser at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

Mr Culley, also chairman of the NFU’s crops board, said: “I’ve reduced [fertiliser] application on all my cereal crops by 20 percent. I’m expecting a 15 to 20 percent reduction on my yield.”

He then added: “I just don’t think Government do get it at the moment. I just don’t think they want to listen.”

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