A Norfolk farmer said he will be forced to stop growing asparagus due to a shortage of migrant workers, and warned more growers would follow suit.

Farmer Andy Allen harvests up to 250 tonnes of the vegetable a year at Portwood Farm in Attleborough - a task which requires at least 120 seasonal workers over the 10-week season.

Eastern Daily Press: Andy Allen with some of his asparagus at his farm shop at Portwood Farm, Great EllinghamAndy Allen with some of his asparagus at his farm shop at Portwood Farm, Great Ellingham (Image: Newsquest)

But since Brexit stemmed the critical supply of European labour, he said he will not be replanting any more going forward. 

This will mean that while he will have an asparagus harvest for the next four years, after that, he will no longer farm the crop.

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He said: “We’re seeing the end of an industry. Not just asparagus, but soft fruit growers, and even poultry producers.

“The margins are just too fine to commit money when we have no assurance we’ll be able to secure the workers to harvest it.”

Last year the government increased the number of Seasonal Worker Visas from 25,500 to at least 45,000, after complaints from farmers.

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But Mr Allen said the six-month working limit attached to the visa is insufficient to cover the entire harvest, and is urging the government to look again at its policy.

He said: “You have people coming over for the start of the season, but they then have to leave before the berries and soft fruit season which is causing huge shortages.

“We need the visas to be at least nine months to cover everything. Because as farmers, if we can’t harvest, we go out of business.

“As things stand it's not ‘if' or ‘maybe’ we’ll see a mass exodus from the industry, but definitely.”

And with a general election on the horizon, Mr Allen added that farmers need all parties to commit to flexible migration policies.

He said: “In the next five to six years we won’t have an industry unless we get a commitment to the long term supply of labour.

“A year in advance isn’t long enough. If we’re to commit huge amounts of money into producing these crops we need to know we have the workforce to harvest them.”

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