Minister of State for Food visits Thanet Earth for tour and talks over challenges faced by industry

Pleun Van Malkenhorst, Thanet Earth Growing Director, Chris Butler, Thanet Earth MD, Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP and Rob James, Thanet Earth Technical Director

The government Minister of State for Food, Farming and Fisheries, MP Mark Spencer, has visited Thanet Earth for a tour and to talk about the challenges faced by the industry.

The Minister met with Chris Butler the MD of Thanet Earth and Rob James, Technical Director. before being taken on an extensive tour of the site.

Cucumber harvest at Thanet Earth

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 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, partially due to Brexit.

The tour started with a visit to the packhouse so the Minister could see the investments made in automation. It was followed by visits with Pleun Van Malkenhorst, Growing Director for three glasshouses, to see the tomatoes, peppers and cucumber crops.

Chris Butler said: “It was important not only for us to show the Minister the work we are doing here at Thanet Earth, but also to have discussions about the challenges our industry is currently facing. These are in particular around managing energy costs, retaining a highly skilled seasonal workforce and future government support to help grow the sector.”

The Minister added: “I would like to thank Thanet Earth for the opportunity to visit their cutting-edge glasshouses and meet the people working hard to put food on our shelves.”

Thanet Earth

“Our domestic horticulture sector is crucial to the resilience of our food system and the wider economy which is why the government is working to support the sector through current challenges and help to seize the opportunities of innovation into the future.”

Thanet Earth produces around 30 million cucumbers, 24 million peppers and 400 million tomatoes per year.

Recent supply issues nationally of fresh fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers are said to be caused by climate change, the UK’s overreliance on imports during the winter, soaring energy costs and competitive pricing strategies at British supermarkets.


  1. Almost their entire workforce of picker’s were from overseas, mainly Poland I believe, I asked the recruitment manager once why they didn’t employ local people to do their picking, his reply was, they tried but very few locals were prepared to start work at 5am, this was a good few years back now and although unemployment weren’t terrible, it was significant, they were paid the minimum wage but it 9 or 10 hour shifts, workers would be going home 2 or 3 in the afternoon. So I think brexit has played a significant role in it.

    • Yep, because nobody British wants to get there for 4AM, line up for an hour & then be told they have enough people for today & to go home & try again tomorrow & then if you are ‘lucky’ enough to be selected you have to work all day in tropical conditions to a high speed, in the second biggest light polluter in the country.

    • Mainly Bulgarians, Romanians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Slovaks, some Greeks and Italians. If a Brit came, he worked a maximum of 2 weeks.
      During the season, the agency brought in temporary workers from Bulgaria and Romania. Now Brexit, so they probably won’t come anymore.

  2. Would it be wise to consider the viability of covering the green houses with solar panels to deflect some of the costs of energy? The oil crisis we had in the 70’s increased costs of just about everything, and inflation roared away at 25%. My recollection is that prices didn’t go down, so investing in their own energy supply would be sensible in my opinion, if they haven’t already done it!

    • If the greenhouses were covered with solar panels,where would they obtain the light,to photosynthesise?

  3. Two points in response.. Thanet Earth has been advertising for staff for several weeks so may have changed their policy. I’m not sure how everyone expects tomatoes and cucumbers to be available to buy if no British people are prepared to work in the conditions required to grow them? Secondly I’m also not sure how you are supposed to grow plants of any type without the same light that Dumpton thinks can be diverted from them and used to power solar panels?

      • I’m no expert but don’t cannabis plants being grown illegally need 24/7 artificial light? In fact at first glance I thought that was what was being grown from the picture!

  4. If its true that Thanet Earth rely on casual labour, this is easily remedied. Offer secure jobs, acknowledging stressful hours, have in-house training, welcome a union and work with it and they might produce a stable workforce, at no extra cost.

    • Pretty sure the management there have vehemently fought against a union, just search for Thanet Earth Union or Unite-tells you all you need to know about them.

      • I personally would never work for a big company if unions arent allowed. What are they scared of ?

        • Workers rights. Why that industry has spent decades overwhelmingly using overseas labour, where human rights aren’t very popular with the dictators/leaders running them & thus the people will put up with being paid abysmally, exploited in various other ways such as protective equipment shortages/safety & anything else.

  5. The first issue of local labour can be easily resolved. The old Kent Salads never had a problem getting British shift workers. Why? They provided transport! Most people who would take such jobs don’ t have their own vehicles. Or friends with vehicles who already work there.
    I hope the minister encouraged the management to open similar operations across the UK?

  6. Transport required for early morning shifts not all and sundry own a car for one…two wages need to be competitive and three employees need to work in quite tropical conditions .,.this isn’t everyones cup of tea….I would be willing to give it a go but am off the register at the moment off sick.

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