The president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Minette Batters has warned that the government has shown a “total lack of understanding of how food production works” amid industry challenges.
The warning came as members of the farming union met for their annual conference in Birmingham after a year into Brexit, experiencing the “toughest” challenges “in a generation”.
The warning came amid labour shortages caused by Brexit and Covid, transitions to post-Brexit subsidy schemes and the continuing pig-cull crisis.
“We need a plan that pre-empts crises… rather than repeatedly running into them. The current situation in the pig sector should have – and could have – been avoided,” Batters said during her speech at the NFU conference.
The NFU has estimated there is a backlog of 200,000 pigs on farms in England that are haven’t been slaughtered due to abattoir labour shortages.
Approximately 40,000 healthy pigs have also been culled without being processed for consumption.
Compared to Scotland and Northern Ireland, ministers’ “review of fairness” in the pig industry has included a quota of temporary visas for foreign butchers but no financial aid for farmers.
Agricultural issues also extend to crop yields, with fruit and vegetables unable to be picked due to inaccessible labour. Smaller growers are expected to be forced out of the industry if they can’t get enough workers to pick crops.
The news comes as the government has restricted the number of seasonal worker permits to 30,000 in 2021 despite calls for increasing the post-Brexit visa quotas.
Batter cited “contradictory” policy as the government is “claiming to value domestic food production but making it difficult to find workers to harvest or process it.”
Batters added: “This is down to government’s poorly designed change to immigration policy and what I can only say appears to be their total lack of understanding of how food production works and what it needs.”