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Eat asparagus? Brexit may hit British farms next

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on March 18, 2019 - Duration: 02:08s

Eat asparagus? Brexit may hit British farms next

"It is incredibly clear cut," family farmer Chris Chinn says, "there is no UK asparagus on your supermarket shelves without seasonal migrant workers." He fears his supply of EU labor is quickly vanishing.

Matthew Larotonda reports.

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Eat asparagus? Brexit may hit British farms next

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS CHINN, ASPARAGUS FARMER, SAYING: "My name is Christopher Chinn.

I'm a fourth generation asparagus farmer from the Wye Valley in Herefordshire, and I'm really, really concerned about getting some staff in this year to harvest my crop." Chris Chinn has a problem; a big problem.

His family has been farming for almost a hundred years and his seasonal workers are disappearing.

No workers means no harvest, no money, and eventually no farm, because of Brexit.

Like many British farmers, Chinn relies on farmhands from elsewhere in the European Union - in his case Romania and Bulgaria.

It's made possible through the EU's freedom of movement laws.

An EU citizen in one country has the right to work in any other EU country with very little bureaucracy involved.

But there's so much fear and confusion over Brexit for these workers, particularly over whether they'll even be welcome in the UK, that they're going elsewhere instead like Germany and the Netherlands.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS CHINN, ASPARAGUS FARMER, SAYING: "Seasonal labor is absolutely critical, I cannot sort of overstate how important it is.

(...) About 20 percent of the guys who have accepted the job haven't turned up and that's significant.

If that sort of trend continues through the rest of the season then we're in some level of trouble." Twenty percent means Chinn's operating at a loss.

At 50 percent he fears he may go bankrupt, and the idea of hiring British people to pick his asparagus is a complete fantasy.

It's a job no Briton wants, he says.

There's also a trickle down effect.

If farmers can't harvest then either the food isn't going to grocery stores or it needs to be imported.

Either way, it means prices go up.

Elina Kostadinova, from Bulgaria, manages Chinn's Eastern European workers.

She says what they need most is certainty.

(SOUNDBITE) (Bulgarian) COBREY FARMS HARVEST MANAGER, ELINA KOSTADINOVA, SAYING: "It would be wonderful if the British government could just make a decision, so we can pass on this message to anyone who wants to to work in the UK."

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