Labour MEP Alex Mayer visited local tomato growers Glinwell as part of British Tomato Week, to celebrate the industry's successes in Essex but issue a stark warning of the consequences of Brexit.
Ms Mayer met the Chair of the British Tomato Growers’ Association, Matthew Simon who told the Euro MP how 97% of workers in Glinwell’s 400 strong team of packers and pickers are from other European countries including Italy, Poland and Romania.
The Government has not yet outlined its plans for immigration post-Brexit and without access to this crucial seasonal EU labour, ripe tomatoes could turn to mush in their 8.1 hectares of glasshouses.
A recent National Farmers Union survey found 13% of vacancies for pickers were left unfilled last year, with a high of nearly 30% in crucial harvest months.
In 2017 the UK exported £7.5 million worth of tomatoes and grew over 92,000 tonnes of tomatoes.
The Essex MEP said: “We can’t have plump, ripe tomatoes turning to mush in greenhouses. We urgently need clarity from the Government. They seem to understand the need for a seasonal agricultural workers scheme - but warm words are not enough - we need action now.
“Already the weakness of the pound makes working in the UK less attractive and farmers urgently need to know who they will be able to hire.
“The first commercially cultivated tomatoes were recorded in Essex in the 19th century. Let’s make sure this is an industry that is fit for the 21st century too.”