Brexit-induced shortage of workers reportedly forces some turkey farmers to raise fewer chicks this year because they forecasted there would not be enough staff in processing plants to handle them. Covid and the lack of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers have also heavily affected the turkey supply chain in the UK to the extent that experts of the industry have suggested to MPs that importing poultry should be the only way to fill up the shelves before Christmas.
The Government recently announced it would allow in 5,500 poultry plant workers on short-term visas, but this came too late to boost the number of turkeys being raised.
Graeme Dear, chairman of the British Poultry Council, said in a statement: “The irony is we may find ourselves having to import turkey from France and Poland for a British Christmas, probably with some of the very workers we trained and left to go back to their homelands.”
Tom Bradshaw, of the National Farmers’ Union, said the organisation has been involved in constant battles with the Home Office over the need to allow in more foreign workers.
A seasonal workers scheme allows 30,000 foreign workers to help bring in the UK harvest, but the NFU says this needs to be raised to 50,000-60,000.
Mr Bradshaw said: “The food waste we are seeing at a farm level…is completely inexcusable.”
People who choose to avoid supermarkets and buy a turkey directly from a farmer might be lucky, but only if they place their order ahead of time.
Richard Botterill, owner of G. B. Geese farm in Lincolnshire said he had received orders for turkeys a month earlier than normal in the run-up to the festive season.
“We’re certainly finding that people are ordering a lot earlier. Probably about a month earlier than what they would do normally,” he told Wales Online.
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“Once we’ve lost our number that we can produce, that’s it.
“If that occurs at the beginning of December, we’ll have to shut our order book. We can’t magic them out of thin air.”
Kate Martin, chairwoman of the Traditional Farm Fresh Turkey Association (TFTA) told PA: “This year it’s looking like there is a national shortage of turkeys when we’re talking about supermarket shelves, rather than buying directly from your farm.
“It is the supermarket shelves that will be emptier on turkeys this year than they have been before, only because there have been fewer turkeys placed on the ground, only because the big processors know that they will not get them processed.”
On whether Brexit is to blame, Mrs Martin said: “We’re small producers, we use local labour, but for the big processors it is 100 percent caused by a labour shortage.
“This situation with turkeys is caused by the fact that European labour is no longer available to us, and they are skilled workers who have been coming to us for years.”