Current and Emergent Economic Impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit on UK Fresh Produce and Horticultural Businesses
This paper describes a study designed to investigate the current and emergent impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit on UK horticultural businesses. Various characteristics of UK horticultural production, notably labour reliance and import dependence, make it an important sector for policymakers concerned to understand the effects of these disruptive events as we move from 2020 into 2021. The study design prioritised timeliness, using a rapid survey to gather information from a relatively small (n = 19) but indicative group of producers. The main novelty of the results is to suggest that a very substantial majority of producers either plan to scale back production in 2021 (47%) or have been unable to make plans for 2021 because of uncertainty (37%). The results also add to broader evidence that the sector has experienced profound labour supply challenges, with implications for labour cost and quality. The study discusses the implications of these insights from producers in terms of productivity and automation, as well as in terms of broader economic implications. Although automation is generally recognised as the long-term future for the industry (89%), it appeared in the study as the second most referred short-term option (32%) only after changes to labour schemes and policies (58%). Currently, automation plays a limited role in contributing to the UK's horticultural workforce shortage due to economic and socio-political uncertainties. The conclusion highlights policy recommendations and future investigative intentions, as well as suggesting methodological and other discussion points for the research community.