Norfolk mushroom growers said they are throwing away tonnes of their crop because they are struggling to recruit enough workers to pick them.

Chris Haylock and his wife Laura run a business in Swainsthorpe growing 20 tonnes of mushrooms per week as part of the producer group Waveney Mushrooms.

They have echoed concerns from other parts of the horticultural sector over the loss of EU workers after Brexit - while many Russian and Ukrainian workers who had filled some of those vacancies last year are no longer available because of the war.


Mr Haylock said he previously recruited mainly from Bulgaria, but now only those with UK settled status are able to return following the end of free movement to and from the EU.

And while he has been able to make use of the government's seasonal workers scheme for summer fruit and vegetable pickers, the six-month visa is not a viable long-term solution for his business, which grows mushrooms all year round under polytunnels.

As a result, they have been forced to throw away up to three tonnes of the fast-growing mushrooms if they are not harvested in time at the end of the six-week growing cycle.

"It is a constant battle," said Mr Haylock. "Ideally we need 26 trained pickers. We have got 21 staff at the moment, but three are on holiday, and we are unable to recruit Bulgarians unless they already have settled status.

"We have got people with settled status who are coming next week, but at the moment we have to rely on the goodwill of our staff to get the crop harvested. They are working 55-60 hours a week.

"Mushrooms grow very quickly so if we are not able to pick the third flush we could need to get rid of maybe 3,000kg of mushrooms. When we are operating normally that would be our profit.

"We are being told to use English staff, but we have not been able to find English people to do this work."

The couple are also struggling with the impact of rising business costs, including having to raise wages to match the minimum salary requirements of the seasonal workers scheme.

Eastern Daily Press: Mushrooms being picked under polytunnels at SwainsthorpeMushrooms being picked under polytunnels at Swainsthorpe (Image: Brittany Woodman/ Archant)

A government spokesperson said: “We fully acknowledge that the food and farming industry is facing labour challenges and we continue to work with the sector to mitigate them.

“We have given the industry greater certainty in accessing seasonal, migrant labour by extending the Seasonal Workers visa route until the end of 2024, allowing overseas workers to come to the UK for up to six months to work in the horticulture sector - in addition to the EU nationals living in the UK with settled or pre-settled status.

"We are also working towards attracting UK workers into the sector.”

Eastern Daily Press: Mushrooms growing under polytunnels at SwainsthorpeMushrooms growing under polytunnels at Swainsthorpe (Image: Brittany Woodman/ Archant)