Daffodils rotting in fields due to Covid pandemic and Brexit issues

Daffodils are being left to rot in Cornwall as Brexit blocks seasonal workers from entering the UK to pick flowers Credit: BPM Media

Fields of flowers worth hundreds of thousands of pounds are being left to rot in Cornwall.

Varfell Farms is the world’s largest daffodil grower, producing half a billion stems each year at Longrock, Penzance.

The farm needs roughly 700 pickers but says the Covid pandemic and the end of free movement following Brexit means only 400 flower pickers are available to pick the daffodils.

Alex Newey, the business owner, said recruiting local pickers to plug the gap is challenging and he has no choice but to let the daffodils rot in the fields.

He said: "We can’t harvest them, we don’t have enough pickers to pick them. We’re losing hundreds of thousands of pounds.

"We have significant recruitment drives for local workers to come and harvest crops.

"It’s idealistic to think that because of Covid and the higher than usual unemployment rates that those people would come in and do that work.

I would say that a daffodil harvester is to be highly respected because the work is very hard. You’re out in the cold weather, it’s in Cornwall, it blows pretty hard down there. It’s wet and you’re bending over picking daffodils for three months.

Alex Newey, business owner

"Frankly, the people that we’ve had to come and do this work, the locals, may last a day or two days, but they certainly don’t last two or three months."

Across the region, Brexit has caused additional complications for local businesses with paperwork delays and exporting issues at ports.

Some seasonal workers are eligible under a scheme to travel outside the EU for employment, however it does not include flower picking as part of its remit.

Alex has since raised his concerns with the government and remains hopeful for the future despite the loss of revenue this season.

Over half a billion daffodil stems are grown each year at Varfell Farms in Penzance Credit: BPM Media

He said: "The seasonal worker pilot scheme will allow workers from outside of the EU – that’s the important bit, outside the EU – under a visa scheme to come in and harvest food crops.

"There is significant pools of available workers from places such as the Ukraine, Moldova and further afield in South America.

"But for the time being that’s only for edible crops. It does not include ornamental crops. By definition, flowers are excluded from that.

I have to say the responses are positive and we are hopeful that the ornamentals sector will be included in the scheme, but as yet it hasn’t happened. In any event, we’re too late for this flower season.

Alex Newey, business owner

Varfell Farms was given permission by Cornwall Council to install 49 caravans for workers on the site earlier this month.

Matt Jarrett, chief executive officer of the farm’s parent company, told a planning meeting the industry contributes £150million to the UK economy each year.

He said the business was now farming 2,881 acres and had 52 full-time staff as well as 600 seasonal staff.

He said his operation supplied daffodils to all UK supermarkets as well as exporting them to Europe, the USA and Dubai.


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