Lincolnshire leek grower praises Polish workforce

A leek grower has said Polish workers have been the "saving grace" of his business and have even helped to keep down the price of his product.

Mervyn Casey, of Willow Farm in New York, Lincolnshire, said that, despite reports from many growers this season that a lack of reliable workers is resulting in crops going to waste (Grower, 21 August), working conditions in the UK are still favourable for eastern European workers.

He said: "They are still paid a pittance in Poland. Thousands of workers are still in Boston (Lincolnshire) and are not going home. Not a week goes by when we do not have people knocking on our doors asking for work. It really is the saving grace of the produce industry. The availability of labour has kept a cap on prices."

Casey, who revealed that this year's leek season looks promising, with growing conditions so far being favourable, added: "The big problem will arise when the economic conditions in countries like Poland and Portugal catch up with ours and they do go home. We will then be looking at serious trouble."

Commenting on the Office for National Statistics report last week that average weekly earnings in June were only 2.9 per cent higher than last year, Casey said that labour is the only cost that has not risen significantly this year. "I have not seen the increase in labour costs that we were expecting," he said.

But Lancashire-based grower David Edge, of Riccadonna Produce in Preston, said that he has experienced the same kind of labour problems reported by soft fruit growers.

"We are struggling to find reliable staff. Because of the exchange rate between ourselves and Poland it's no longer as lucrative for staff to remain in England - especially as the cost of living here is going up."

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