G’s Fresh of Ely move machinery and lettuces to Poland and Spain to combat post-Brexit farming concerns
- Credit: Archant
G’s Fresh of Ely, a farming business that delivers a billion lettuces to British supermarkets each year, is fighting the challenges posed post-Brexit by moving part of it to Europe.
Appearing on the BBC’s Inside Out East, John Shropshire and his son, Henry, discussed the impact Brexit is having on farming and why they’re “taking the work to the people” in Poland and Spain.
When asked about migrant labour, John Shropshire said: “If we can’t bring the people to the work, we’ll have to take the work to the people.
“We load the lettuces onto a lorry and take it to Poland and produce there for the UK market.
““I think, fundamentally, losing the single market is the biggest risk from Brexit.
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“It’s a highly competitive market, so we’ve got a lot of competition, driving prices down.
“But also, it’s freed up the process. We’ve actually got rid of the customs, loads of paperwork, huge amounts of bureaucracy, sacks of people in offices and government officials inspecting every load.
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“The list goes on and on as to what it’s saved.”
Coming from a generation of farmers, Henry Shropshire, who runs the Polish farm, told Inside Out that he started on his post-Brexit plan right after the referendum.
“Within a week saw the opportunity, and it’s one that we’re going to grab onto.
“We’ve already started to find more landlords here to rent land.
“For the UK consumers, when it comes down to it, it’s all about price.
“At this point we will never be able to deliver the price that they expect for UK-grown produce onto the shelves in supermarkets. It’s impossible; because post-Brexit there’s question marks over the free movement of people, and that in itself is a deal-breaker.
“If we cannot get the people to come and harvest, that’s it - it’s over.
“That’s why we’ll be coming here. We’ll be able to move the land to the people, move the management and machines here, and start supplying into the UK and giving what the UK consumer wants – and that’s a cheap, fresh, good quality product; which is what we’ll be able to deliver from Poland.”
Investing for “the future,” he added: “We’re pushing our UK marketing team to start introducing Polish product as another opportunity.
“We’re very much ramping it up.
“We’ve started bringing more machinery from the UK - all we have to do is put it in a lorry and bring it here.
“People may think our farming can’t move; there’s too much to change, but that’s not the case.
“Some would say the land’s actually more fertile in this region of Poland; the weather’s better, we have the water and we just have to move the machinery.
“And we have the people, which we may not have in the UK in two or three years time. Who knows?”
Britain joined the single market 24 years ago, enabling the free movement of European people to come and work in the UK.
In 1992, Mr Shropshire, whose family have been farming in East Anglia for generations, was employing Polish agricultural students.
Inside Out East asked him back then about his farms prospects; “I see the future as being quite tough,” he predicted.
“I think farming in general is going to get more competitive and more difficult. But I think there are tremendous opportunities and we’ll continue to grow; that growth will be based on exports to the whole of Europe.”
Now, though, he says “following Brexit, we’ve got an uncertain world.
“We don’t really know what it’s going to look like, but we are very well placed to tackle any scenario that the government chooses for us.
“Because we’re farming in Spain, Poland and Senegal we can adapt to whatever scenario we’re faced with.”
In the programme, Mr Shropshire revealed a chart showing the decline in price for lettuces.
Over the last 20 years, the cost he has been able to charge has halved – from £1 in 1992 to 50 pence now.
This is partly because of the single market and because our supermarkets are demanding lower and lower prices for the shopper. So, as Anna Hill suggested, if the freedom of the single market, supplying to millions of people, is removed, what happens to the price of that iceberg lettuce?
“It’s inevitable it’s going to go up,” said Mr Shropshire.
“At the moment all those savings are being passed on by the retailers to the consumers; the consumers have had extraordinary benefit from this.”
To watch the full programme, visit www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07qbcfd/inside-out-east-05092016