Major topfruit supplier Worldwide Fruit says it is looking at contingency plans such as stockpiling if the UK crashes out of the European Union without a Brexit deal but admits this is far from an “ideal solution”.
With Brexit negotiations slow to progress in recent weeks, the company’s technical and procurement director Tony Harding said there is a real risk that supply chains could “break down”.
In a bid to prevent this, the fruit supplier is currently exploring various “mitigation strategies” so it can continue to trade even if there is no deal.
Speaking to FPJ at the National Fruit Show in Kent, Harding stressed that stockpiling would be challenging due to a lack of available storage in the UK, as well as the high costs it would entail and the negative impact it could have on fruit quality.
“It’s not an ideal solution at all,” he said. “What we hope to see is some kind of workable status quo in terms of how we currently do business.”
The other major challenge for UK suppliers, particularly in topfruit, is access to labour, and Harding said he welcomed the government’s trial scheme for seasonal agricultural workers as “a step in the right direction”.
Nevertheless, he said the industry would need a lot more seasonal workers than the 2,500 provided by the scheme, citing the NFU figure of 90,000. Harding encouraged growers to make their businesses attractive to foreign workers by offering good working conditions, services and pay.
“There are examples within the industry and within our group where growers are paying above the minimum wage, and they seem to be the ones that have had fewer issues hanging on to their workers,” Harding said.
“Obviously a big factor is the exchange rate, and at the moment it’s really not helping, but that may change. If we get a Brexit deal, we could see a 10 per cent swing in currency and that could make a massive difference to the availability of workers.”
Commenting on English Apples and Pears’ recently announced target of boosting the UK market share of British-grown apples from 42 to 60 per cent by 2030, he said he “liked the vision”, however he fears the popularity of Pink Lady could limit progress.
“Varieties like Pink Lady are growing in popularity, and unfortunately you’re not allowed to grow it in the UK,” he said. “I can’t see how other UK-grown varieties will overtake it.”
Despite these challenges, Harding stressed that the current UK season is progressing well for Worldwide Fruit. He reported an increased volume compared to last year’s reduced crop, with high sugars and good flavour.