A THIRD of Scotland’s largest brassica crop has been left to rot in the field because Brexit ended access for seasonal pickers.

Costs will rise next year and production will shrink as a result, farmers predict. Meanwhile, empty shelves are causing problems for rural Scots. And Scotland’s iconic food producers are facing “catastrophic failure” to protect their status in UK Government trade deals.

Andrew Faichney, managing director of the East of Scotland Growers (ESG) co-operative, which represents 16 farmers in the Fife area have left about one-third of Scotland’s largest crop of brassicas worth more than £1 million to rot in the field, as Brexit meant a shortage of labour to pick them.

Now farmers are counting the cost. “Farmers are used to dealing with natural events,” Faichney said. “That’s the way we are programmed. We pick ourselves up and start again. But this is different – we have been let down by policy-makers.”

“We are feeling bruised. It has been emotionally draining as well as financially. We put in months of work to grow these crops – it was a good year and they looked fantastic. Then farmers had to say to the team – we will have to leave those fields. It has been hard for everyone.

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“Some farms put up signs saying ‘help yourself’ and some local people came and took a few.

“Others put sheep in the field to eat the crops but it was a really expensive feed crop.”

Some seasonal visas were granted for EU pickers – but far fewer than were required. Faichney said farmers are now counting the cost of 2021 and negotiating prices for the 2022 harvest with supermarkets. “They will have to be higher.

Farmers are already planning to plant less. If only a few visas are granted next year, there may be a bidding war for labour ”. The UK Government is “in complete denial” about the situation, according to NFU Scotland Vice President Andrew Connon.

Farmers also have to factor in other rising costs and logistics issues exacerbated by Britain leaving the single market. This summer, Morrison’s supermarket closed one of Scotland’s largest potato procurement and packing sites in Carnoustie in Angus, which it acquired in 2017, for efficiency reasons. That means a large part of the area’s tattie crop is heading from the field directly to England. Those which return to Scottish shops for sale will have to do double miles.

The National: Crops left to rot in field due to chaos of Brexit

A Morrisons spokeswoman said: “The closure does not mean that Morrisons will be buying any fewer Scottish potatoes.” They did not comment about the environmental impact or whether local tatties will still be available to buy in Scotland.

Another issue is the apparent lack of protection for Scotland’s iconic brands in the UK government’s negotiated trade deals. The document produced by the UK Government on the trade deal with Australia says PGI (protected geographic indicators) for named brands will be protected only if Australia introduces a similar scheme.

RUTH Watson of Keep Scotland the Brand said: “It would appear that Scotland’s iconic brands which have Protected Geographic Indicators will no longer get the same level of protections that they had as part of the EU. The US has made it very clear that they don’t want places of origin and the UK may be paving the way for that. This is devastating news for Scotland’s food brand and international reputation. The Scottish economy is significantly dependent on food and drink exports and Brexit is a catastrophe.”

Meanwhile, across rural Scotland, people took to social media to complain about empty shelves and high fuel costs which make it increasingly expensive to drive to another shop if there are empty shelves.

Sam Jones from Mull tweeted an appeal to the Co-op “We can’t just pop to Tesco instead. Our alternatives are a Premier & Spar round trips of 14 and 24 miles. Don’t send more mince pies and other seasonal crap, send fresh food.” People from Bute, and Islay and other rural areas echoed his concern.

The National: Ruth Watson of Keep Scotland the BrandRuth Watson of Keep Scotland the Brand

Some Twitter protestors contacted by the National didn’t want to be named. One from Islay said: “On Monday, it certainly looked and felt as I imagine East Germany did before reunification.

“There were virtually no vegetables, fresh chicken or meat and other aisles too were sparsely populated. It was very depressing.”

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ANOTHER from Kirriemuir said: “If you don’t have a car or can’t afford to go to the next town you have to put up with what is available at the Co-op. There are lots of gaps in the fresh produce and what there is is spread thinly. In dry goods, the value brands sell out first and all that is left are the more expensive ones.”

CEO of Dundee and Angus foodbanks Derek Marshall said: “Existing challenges for rural people are exacerbated by increasing prices and shortages. For example, elderly people on fixed incomes who don’t drive, can’t shop around.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are doing all we can to support people through what is likely to be a difficult winter, including through our new £41 million Winter Support Fund for low-income households, announced Friday. We are actively supporting rural and island economies.”