Astonishing £320k of food produce ‘trashed’ in 3 weeks at Thanet Earth due to lack of workers, says MP

Cucumber harvest at Thanet Earth

Update: Thanet Earth statement now added

A lack of pickers and drivers has led to Birchington-based Thanet Earth ‘trashing’ £320,000 worth of produce in just three weeks, North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale told Parliament today (September 15).

Thanet Earth generated its first crop of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers in 2009 and formed a partnership with Fareshare in 2013 to distribute surplus produce.

The business has grown, with six greenhouses now on site and plans for a seventh. Its turnover exceeds £107million per year.

There is a workforce needed in excess of 800 people but the UK has been hit by shortages this year due to a combination of Brexit and covid.

Thanet Earth

Much farmwork across the country is reliant on workers from overseas but, even with the number of visas available under the Seasonal Worker Pilot (SWP) increased from 10,000 in 2020 to 30,000 this year, finding labour workers has been a struggle.

According to the National Farmers Union just 11% of seasonal workers last year were UK residents.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Question Time Sir Roger said: “On this Back British Farming Day we are at harvest time but all is not safely gathered in. In three weeks Thanet Earth, one of the largest glasshouse companies in the country, has had to trash £320,000 worth of produce because there are no pickers and no drivers, because of a lack of labour force. The crops are rotting in our fields and on our trees.”

Sir Roger asked for a covid recovery visa to be introduced immediately so this year’s crops are not lost. He also took a swipe at relaxed planning regulations saying: “We are not going to blaze a trail building on our finest agricultural land. That has got to stop, now.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed there were currently ‘problems in the supply chain’ and said steps were being taken: “We have the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme to ensure British farms get the labour they need.”

Sharon Goodyer heads up Our Kitchen

The MP’s claim that so much produce had been ‘trashed’ has horrified Sharon Goodyer, from Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet. The organisation works to provide families with cheap, good quality food, much of it through redistribution from local businesses, gleaning, Fareshare and others.

But Chris Butler, Managing Director of Thanet Earth, said the food had been redistributed or used for composting.

MD Chris Butler

He said: “Today is ‘Back British Farming Day’, organised by the NFU. It’s a chance to celebrate the work of British farmers and growers, and to highlight current issues that impact on our ability to feed the nation.

“Sir Roger Gale MP referenced Thanet Earth today in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions. He told of some £320,000 worth of tomatoes that over recent weeks we have been unable to send to our retail customers because of a shortage of labour in our sector.

“This loss comes because our crop, whilst in production all year round, has seasonal peaks in production. Additional workers are needed at peak times to ensure we can pick and pack the tomatoes and it’s this seasonal labour that is most needed at present. The current shortage of HGV drivers is also impacting our ability to get the packed product distributed in good time on to retail distribution centres.

“The ‘wasted’ tomatoes have either been redistributed through local charities and the FareShare network or have been routed to compost production.

“This crop should be in our supermarkets, providing consumers with delicious, nutritious, British-grown products at a time when they’re at their seasonal best. To prevent further unnecessary and avoidable waste I add my voice to those calling for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Scheme (which permits temporary workers from overseas to come to the UK and work on British farms) to be expanded and made permanent, and I support new initiatives such as the proposed Covid Recovery Visa scheme that would enable our business and the wider food supply chain to recruit the workers we need in the short term.

“We offer a superb place to work; we’re proud of the good pay and conditions our staff enjoy. We offer training and development opportunities in a beautiful part of Kent.

“Thanet Earth is not alone in this position and we thank people such as Sir Roger Gale MP and our colleagues at the NFU who are helping raise the profile of the issues that threaten our sector. We look forward to swift action from policymakers to ensure that government really does #backbritishfarming.”

Thanet resident Jack Packman, who is experienced in working with a range of local organisations aimed at helping people in difficulty, is urging Thanet Earth to engage with the Thanet community to share future crop that may go to ‘waste.’

He said: “On a daily basis, there are people who are struggling to provide basic living needs for their families. We are about to see a decrease in universal credit and an increase in tax and national insurance. We have already seen a huge increase in council tax and the daily living costs have continued to rise and rise. So, to say things are going to get worse is probably an understatement.

“I understand that Thanet Earth is struggling with staff and distribution but, I am sure if they reached out, the local community would have stepped in and supported Thanet Earth with the collection of the produce and distributed it into the community.

“With the likes of Our Kitchen, The Kitchen CT9, Kitchen Social and many other food support organisations, having to put their hand into their own pockets to feed Thanet better, this was a great opportunity for Thanet Earth to reach out to support these amazing organisations to help feed Thanet better.

“Good food is so important to everyone and with the rise of people’s mental health and decrease in their wellbeing, a good meal would certainly contribute towards their health and wellbeing.

“I certainly hope that Thanet Earth will reach out and engage with the community and support organisations and individuals through these tough times and ensure nobody continues to go hungry. If Thanet Earth or any other organisations would like to engage and support the local organisations and community they can email me on Info@jackpackman.co.uk

74 Comments

  1. oh well they had a good run with unlimited cheap labour , employing christ knows who , perhaps if they pay proper wages english people might take these jobs on , i know that at one time about 10 or more different languages were spoken there , and i dont think english was one of them !!!.

    • Real World. FYI Thanet Earth pay workers the living wage level not minimum wage level. So you should not jump to conclusions about cheap labour . They are skilled hard working agricultural workers. Not cheap labour. Adverts for English workers have not drawn much interest . Brexit is now showing how hypocritical some people are about foreign workers whom they depend for British produce. Brexit means more imports of more expensive food and less UK grown with numpties like you

    • A couple of years ago or more some migrant workers were interviewed on TV cutting cauliflowers, who said they averaged £10.00 an hour, with sleeping quarters, and food chucked in! They didn’t even stop working when being interviewed! Some English workers did try it, and lasted 2 days! All you EU leavers voted for something you didn’t have a clue about, because the T & C’s are still being worked out, Duurh!

    • Overweight and lazy Brexit voters couldn’t hack these jobs – it’s nothing to do with wages. They’re so physically and mentally weak that they’d pass out on the first day and that’s why tougher eastern Europeans were able to succeed.

  2. With all these job vacancies at Thanet Earth, in pubs/restaurants and in care homes, presumably there are no longer any able-bodied people still signing on in Thanet…

    • Nobody in their right mind would work at arch polluters & eco destroyers TE & care home work is not something you want somebody doing for a wage only-that is how residents end up getting assaulted, smothered, lethally injected etc. Anyway, as from today you need the jabs to work in that industry & around 70,000 will be leaving as a result-so the care homes will effectively collapse due to the Covid Stasi fascists.

  3. Why can we not buy produce from Thanet earth in our local shops????? Maybe if they paid a decent wage then people would want to work there!!!!!

    • I used to hear from people that basically there was a long line of Eastern Europeans that queued up early every morning & once they had enough of them for the day the rest got told to sod off & try again tomorrow.

      The reality of the majority of food picking companies is they decided decades back that paying British people was too expensive, so hired either at minimum or in many cases illegally below minimum wage the Eastern Europeans to do it instead & cut as many corners with working conditions & safety that Brits would not tolerate, but people who have left their awful countries with no safeguards or rights in place will gladly do this.

      The people that voted for Brexit & waved their flags, along with the politicians who pushed for it/backed it are as predicted now crying in their cornflakes because there is nobody to pick their food, no HGV drivers to get food to the shops, the NHS is collapsing at a faster rate than ever as they leave & go back home, same with care homes etc & now they can’t sit there ranting about Johnny Foreigners taking all our jobs, the blame predictably turns to the lazy Brits not wanting to work for wage slave employers, in polluted sweatshops, in appalling conditions for minimum wage & the unvacinated.

    • No wonder the Tories are crying about it-no unions, no rights for the poorest in society working there, massive polluters, massive ecological destruction at the site-everything they love & the likes of Craig MacKinley & Roger Gale vote for-as seen by their available voting records over the years-new polluting airports & runways, against green energy plans, against human rights etc. When will people wake up & stop electing these people?

  4. They were paying the national minimum wage as set by our government, those working there pick fruit or vegetables, it’s not difficult work, yet when they were actively trying to recruit local people, they had a mass of applications but then when they realised the start time was 4/5am and finishing at midday ish, 99% dropped out, it may have had something to do with the wage but most replies were “I’m not getting up at that time in the morning” these were all late teens or early twenties, they don’t want to work not when you see just how much they get for sitting on they’re arse.

      • Thanet Earth should run a bus to pick up and take home their workers, then the lack of public transport (disgraceful though it is) wouldn’t be a problem.

      • What’s wrong getting a push bike, my Dad cycled from Ramsgate to Sandwich for work when he was 15, he had to be there for 6am, there was pride in having a job, regardless of what the pay was.

          • Because they’d complain the pick up points were too far to walk to, or it was unfair that the first person to be picked up had to be out of bed an hour earlier than the last person.

        • Maybe because there wasn’t much change of getting run over by lunatic drivers on your way there back in those days as there were very few who had vehicles. Do you have a picture of Norman Tebbit on your wall by chance?

      • At one time i had a tenant who made his living picking up workers for thanet earth dropping them at work and taking them home again, his wife worked there as well. The workers paid him on a per trip basis. No doubt he’s done very well for himself over the years and hopefully moved onto bigger and better things.
        If i did any repairs or maintenance in their flat, there was always a thank you box of fresh veg.

    • This just goes to show how unfit for purpose the current minimum wage is. If it was set at a fairer level, say, £12.00 per hour, at least, these exploiters – sorry, employers – may be able to recruit staff. In addition to this, why are they having to start at 04.00/05.00am? That’s just cruel. Not everyone has their own car, and I doubt if there are any buses running at that time in the morning.

      • Refuse collector’s get to work at 5am, post delivery people can start at 5am, the sorting staff can start earlier,distribution depots have their drivers leaving at, well anytime throughout the early hours, there are loads of jobs that start very early in the morning. £8.91 per hour may not seem a lot but it’s £356 a week with minimal tax (if any) and it’s a starting point, nothing to stop that person trying to progress. Everyone has opportunities to better themselves, if they want to look for them.

        • Buck Rodgers

          Earlier morning start minimum wage, pvt rent nearly 1k amonth for a two bed house.

          Perhaps companies should pay enough for people to able to buy or greedy householders should lower their asking price.

          Since the wicked witch sold of all our council house so her friends the landlords could make a killing, working class people cant get council houses, cant get a mortgage, cant get a sensible rate of rent.

        • How is it down there shining Dave Cameron & Boris shoes? Besides which unless your name is Abdul or Wasim you aren’t getting a job there.

          Why do you feel sorry for parasites that destroyed the eco system building that monstrosity, that is, or was in 2016 at least the second worst light polluter in the UK behind Tata Steel in Rotherham, wastes vast amounts of electricity & speeds up global warming & that has made a point not to employ local people, instead hiring cheap foreign labour to maximise their own profits? Now suddenly you expect Brits to want to work for minimum wage in abysmal conditions, with no union & no rights & get up at 3 in the morning & take their life in their hands riding there on a bicycle while lorries & cars whizz next to them at 60 MPH?

        • It don’t pay the rents nor the bills. A average family of 2 adults and 2 children can’t live on that amount. So they end up topped up with government money, don’t make sense to me. £8-91an hour dont pay for one hair cut. Now days. definitely can’t run a car on that wages. Unless you live in your parents house. There’s another problem

      • No the problem is the benefit system, large numbers of householdsmin thanet consist of a parent on benefits claiming rent and everything else, they then have a partner who is effectively unknown to the authorities in terms of employment and bemefits, the partner works cash in hand , these days going rate for building work is 100 a day. So a household paid for and 20k cash spending money.
        Who’d want a real job when those terms are easy pickings.

    • As some have said what is the need for a 4 or 5 am start, they work indoors so not weather driven.
      As others have said no public transport to there.
      Plus I thought starting that early they had to pay unsociable hours before 6am.
      Plus they dont allow a union.
      I thought the work place had to be more flexible with their working hours to suit the employees.

      Like I said before people have had interviews with them and TE never even told them yes or no !

      And why is TE allowed to have so much light pollution ?

    • Why is that the start time…. Some places just have ridiculous working hours for historical no longer valid reasons. I’d question management if they rather lose thousands of pounds of stock rather than shift to a more traditional working pattern that helps parents and carers and would make working there more attractive.

      Just because something was always something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change.

      So before we blame locals for not taking jobs let’s ask why management here seems intent on wasting produce

    • Not difficult work-have you ever done these jobs? Try working in the sun in fields all day, or in the freezing cold & wet-being expected to pick a certain amount in a certain time, often without breaks & often these companies operate with unsafe working conditions & refuse to supply protective equipment.

      Then move it indoors into tropical heat-TE are the second biggest light polluters in the UK-try pulling a 10-12 hour shift in a literal sweatshop that feels like a sauna, being barked at for not going fast enough & see if you think it is easy work.

      My hat is off to the Euros who have put up with no union, no rights, putting their health on the line for low pay-all to fill the bank accounts of the very rich. Obviously you are not going to find many Brits willing to get up at an ungodly hour, to travel to the middle of nowhere & have their basic human rights trampled over, especially for 10 quid an hour.

  5. Had I known about the potential for waste produce I would have volunteered to take part. Sadly, this is the first I’ve heard about it. Come on Thanet Earth; just, at least, go on local radio. I may not be as agile as I used to be but I’d still get the job done and it wouldn’t cost you a penny (apart from a few tomatoes of course.

    • All these clowns voted for it, waved their Union Jacks & then whine when the people they don’t want here then depart & it effects them directly with food shortages, food being thrown away, rising waiting times for NHS treatment, mother not getting looked after in her care home etc. Now it is going to get worse with the Stasi policy of no jab no job in the care industry meaning tens of thousands leaving & it is likely to become mandatory in the NHS as well-meaning that will totally collapse.

      Still, at least Boris in a desperate attempt to distract from the incompetence & corruption of his government has announced a return to the imperial measurement system-should give them something to wave their flags at while reading the Daily Mail & screaming about the feckless unemployed, unjabbed & the immigrants they voted for to leave now leaving ruining everything, as it finally dawns how it affects them personally.

  6. We used to enjoy a large box of mixed tomatoes supplied to local retailers such as Quex Barn and the greengrocers in Ramsgate, but Thanet Earth stopped these supplies in favour of national retailers and forgot the local economy, I did call and email them to express my concern but they never got back to me. Think they need to think again…,,now reaping what they sowed😂

    • They only want to sell at inflated prices in big cities. Clearly when you are the second biggest light polluter in the UK, trampled over the eco-system to build your pollution centre, don’t let your workers have a union or basic rights etc you don’t give a fig about anything other than making yourselves even richer & all the deluded people here expecting locals to fill the void by working long days in a sauna, putting their health at risk, have no union etc for minimum or ‘living’ wage-why do you think they employ people from Eastern Europe? Because nobody else would put up with it.

  7. Our Kitchen would be grateful for any healthy tasty affordable supply of food. We do not ask suppliers and producers for charity. We ask for very good value. We have more than 1350 members of our Food Club. Lots of them are families. They go out of their way to use our shops so they can feed themselves and their families better. We would have made tomato soup, low sugar tomato ketchup, spicy tomato pasta sauce, roasted tomatoes in olive oil. Our customers would have been able to buy tomatoes in our £1 veg bags. The vitamin C in raw tomatoes, the fibre in the skin and the lycopene developed when tomatoes are cooked are all good for us. Please think of us when you have excess good food.

    • Thanet Earth were on local news last night and did say that they give spare produce to Fare Share but were unable to because they did not have the containers to put it in. I think they are having trouble getting the boxes.

    • They’ll have advertised through the job centre at the very least. One of the big pluses when thanet earth was first proposed , was the large number of relatively unskilled jobs it would create and the opportunity it would give for many of thanets unemployed to get a start in the world of work. As has been seen the locals weren’t interested and instead a willing workforce from overseas were more than happy to take up the jobs offered. Many used it as a certain first job in the uk and used it as a way of supporting themselves until they moved onto other things.

      • Well, in reality like all picking & packing food companies they employ people from overseas because they don’t complain & put up with anything-because they come from places that mostly don’t have human rights.

        Now imagine you were looking for work-would the idea of traveling to the middle of nowhere early in the morning where if you don’t have transport you have the chance to be mown down by passing cars & lorries while cycling or walking, to work long shifts in a place pumping out all kinds of pollution, working in sweltering tropical heat, with no rights, no union etc for minimum or ‘living’ wage & if you try to raise any issue around working conditions, health & safety etc you get shown the door? Does that sound appealing to you? Conducive to good physical & mental health? You wonder why Brits don’t want to work there, even if the company wanted to employ them?

  8. Well firstly, Thanet Earth produces amazing produce using the very latest high tech methods and it tastes really good! I visited with a school party a while back – fascinating! BUT if they aren’t sourcing staff locally they should clearly. We are a depressed area and desperate for jobs.

  9. Food rotting on the ground. Not enough lorry drivers. Shortages of glass tubes for Covid tests.
    Empty shelves in supermarkets.
    Never mind. We ‘ve got different coloured passports!

  10. Wasn’t it all the “foreigners” taking out jobs that led people like MP Gale to be so Brexit….

    You don’t mean to say it’s another one of the “Project” Fear by leave campaign to make villains of foreigners and EU and after all they weren’t that bad?!? And it’s actually British people refuse to do this work and British people won’t pay the right price for produce if the proper wages are paid??? Well I never.

    At least we got the 350m for the NHS a week….

    Oh.

    At least the supermarket shelves aren’t empty…

    Oh…..

    Give was right all along people were fed up of experts and facts and much preferred lies and spin.

    Congrats good job all round.

    Also those saying this work is low skilled…. Go give it a go for a week and come back and report how easy you found it. Low paid doesn’t always mean low skilled it means low valued…. It’s very different.

  11. Sharon I guess you said you were happy to take their excess fruit and veg and they didn’t reply. Please let me know if I got this wrong but if it’s as I think then it is an outrage

  12. thanet earth also seemed able to expand how they liked on what had always been farmland , i wonder how they managed that when tdc will turn you down on a small extension ? or is it an obvious answer again – ker ching.

  13. All very well saying to increase minimum wage but when food and all other prices then increase as a result, then many will start complaining. You can’t have it both ways.

  14. Wow. Just wow. All these people going on about how it is the Brexiteers fault, the company’s fault, the bus company’s fault.
    Too many foreigners. Not enough foreigners. Pay more! Don’t charge me more. Blah Blah
    Thanet Earth pay more than minimum wage. Fact
    Many staff who drive there offer lifts to those without cars. Fact
    There has been talk about 4 am starts. Nope. 06:30. Fact
    Too early. 16:30 start. Fact

    People saying Thanet Earth should tell the community so they go and pick it to give away. How people go there to pick it for wages so they don’t need as much in handouts?

    Some can’t work. I fully get that. Some won’t work. I do not get that.
    Brexit shows that we were propping up an immoral low pay system. It has collapsed. Good. Now the Brits who said “they” are stealing are jobs can go and work and those if you who want it cheap can start paying more so the workers you so care about can be paid a fair wage.

    • Brexit – the gift that keeps on giving.
      Now we’re out of Europe, and got rid of all those Johnny Foreigners taking our jobs …. we can take them back!
      Except, for whatever reason, nobody wants to. And if it turns out that people won’t turn out at the crack of dawn to work a long, hard day for less than the living wage, then maybe the wages will be put up. And we’ll all have to pay more.
      So, let’s see:
      Sovereignty
      Control of our borders
      Making Britain great again
      Blue passports
      Pounds and ounces
      More expensive food, if there is any.
      Brilliant.

  15. Thanet Earth-named as the second worst light polluters in the UK back in 2016, not to mention destroying natural habitats & generally adding to global warming. Why is old Roger crying anyway? His lot lobbied & voted for the only people willing to work in such abysmal conditions to be sent packing.

    • Steve

      It is odd how TDC etc turn a blind eye to thanet earths light pollution. All you can see around here is its horrible orange glow on the night clouds. It can be seen from miles.

      I thought the country was cracking down on light pollution. It seems not at thanet earth.

      It’s a disgrace that thanet earth can pollute our night skys so much.

  16. This is nothing to do with Brexit (and those unaudited plutocrats). Unemployed people have told me they can’t get to the site without transport – especially early in the morning. If this is true, the company could quite easily provide transport from hubs across Thanet early in the day. The lack of ability to handle the logistics seems surprising – with no useful suggestions from Roger Gale – North Thanet – MP for now.

    • They don’t want locals-where is the plea from them for locals to go & work there? Not with the MD, or the crybaby on Meridian News the other night. They know full well that Brits will not go & work in a pollution centre in such conditions, with no union or rights-this is why many UK companies realised they could make a lot more money employing cheap foreign labour from places with terrible human rights, or shipping production overseas to sweatshops.

    • Apparently they are approaching binmen on their rounds & trying to entice them to jump ship. So we might end up getting the shops full again, but then have nobody left to collect the waste. Maybe we an go back to the ‘good old days’ of the late 1970’s with everybody on strike, rubbish & dead bodies piling up in the streets. Boris has said he wants another decade in power-as he apparently has so many things he wants to destroy, sorry-I meant do for the nation.

      • You could be closer to the truth. Apparently we are ditching the metric system and allowing people to chose the weights and measures and not be forced by “Brussels” and also the crown is coming back to a pint glass which the express claim “will finally taste like it should”….. blackouts are predicted….

        Full steam ahead to the 70s!

        Those were the days 😉

  17. Besides being the second worst light polluter in the country destroying our view of the night sky and the impact it has on wildlife. They are destroying produce rather than arrange to give it away, or offer it for direct sale to the public.

    • Just like the supermarkets until recent times when the media exposed them dumping tonnes of perfectly good food every week-they only started doing that to avoid bad publicity & worked out they can virtue signal what wonderful people they are.

  18. If the company can afford to lose that sort of money, there could easily pay a lot more to make it attractive and remember when it was built the locals weren’t offered work.

  19. Having worked there more than once, it’s my recollection that the supervisory staff were in tune with practices from the last century.

    Since we’re all good Europeans the word schadenfreude has come into my head.

    And call me a bigot, but UK citizens work just as hard anybody else, maybe they expect employers to show some respect and offer a fair and safe working environment.

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