LABOUR problems could lead to British turkey farmers losing hard-won market share to European producers, a leading business has warned.

Paul Kelly, managing director of Kelly Turkeys, says that French production is a particular threat.

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“30 years ago, about 30% of the UK turkey market was supplied by France.

“Since having access to EU workers, the UK turkey industry has built up the farms and infrastructure needed to supply just about 100% of the turkey the supermarkets need – and the supermarkets have been very supportive of quality British turkey production.

“Now,” he said, “the French factories are rubbing their hands with glee as they can see all that business they used to have returning to them.”

He said the turkey sector would be “hit massively” this Christmas as they rely on agencies who bring in labour from the EU, and that pool of labour is no longer accessible.

Numbers reduced

“The larger companies have made the prudent decision to reduce Christmas turkey numbers by at least 20% as they cannot process the turkeys without the seasonal labour to do it.

“Covid has not helped the labour situation – but it is not the primary reason as many EU workers have left the UK.

“They do not feel welcome anymore, and unless they have settled status – which only lasts for five years – the paperwork they need to go through to get here is bureaucratic, and the expense is costly.

No UK future

“The fact is they do not see a future in the UK, so they are concentrating on finding work in the EU where they have a future.

“They would like to work in the UK as it pays well, we have high standards, and the language barrier is easier as most speak some English.”

Mr Kelly, whose FarmGate hatchery business supplies many of the 1,000 small seasonal turkey growers throughout the country, is equally concerned about their situation.

“These are the farmers who traditionally supply local butchers and farmers markets and sell direct from the farmgate.

“They have a potential nightmare on their hands if the regular people who help them every year with plucking and processing turkeys have not got settled status.”