Pressure from locals prompts S&A Produce to shrink Herefordshire operations

Soft fruit giant S&A Produce has announced plans to drastically downsize its Herefordshire operations in the hope of appeasing local residents who object to its use of polytunnels.

Redundancies will be made to both full-time and seasonal staff as a result of the plans — and the soft fruit output of Herefordshire-based S&A Produce will also be reduced from next year.

S&A Produce was unable to confirm to Grower how many permanent staff it will let go but said the number of seasonal workers needed next year is likely to half from 1,000 to just 500.

Its plans follow a series of objections made by Arrow Valley Residents Association (AVRA) to S&A Produce's original plan — submitted to the local council last year — to build 67ha of fixed polytunnels and accommodation for up to 1,000 seasonal staff.

S&A Produce, which currently produces some produces 10,000 tonnes of strawberries a year, has submitted an amended planning application to Herefordshire County Council to reduce the amount of polytunnels on its Brierley site from 67ha to 35ha.

The shake-up is being led by the firm's new managing director Frank Green, who took over from John Davies in April 2009 and who has subsequently reviewed the business.

Frank Green claims the changes will "improve sustainability and reduce local impacts".

He said: "Having listened carefully to what local people have to say, it seems that it is the scale of our operations in the county that is the main concern. For this reason, we want to further consolidate our activities in Herefordshire, to enhance sustainability of the business and meet the expectations of local people. This has resulted in us reviewing our planning applications and taking the decision to significantly reduce the scale of our operations at Brierley.

"Although a reduced scale of operations in Herefordshire brings a number of benefits, it does have inevitable implications regarding the number of employees we need. We will shortly be consulting with our staff on this matter and will be entering into discussions regarding redundancies."

For more on this story see Grower, 28 August.


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