FARMERS ARE struggling to harvest summer crops of fruit and salads as the number of migrant workers prepared to come to the UK has slumped.
The UK relies on some 80,000 workers to pick summer produce, most of whom come from EU countries, particularly Bulgaria and Romania. However, 20% of UK farmers are now reporting a labour shortage. British Summer Fruits, which speaks for the nation’s soft fruit producers, has said that this year’s labour shortage is the worst since 2004.
The news comes hot on the heels of announcements from the Nursing and Midwifery Council that applications from EU nationals to work in the UK have creshed through the floor. Spokespeople for UK agriculture believe that the drop in the number of seasonal workers prepared to come to the UK from the EU is mostly due to a drop in the value of the £ sterling – although general uncertainty over Brexit is also playing its part.
The BBC conducted a survey of members of the British Leafy Salad Association and British Summer Fruits which found that nearly four out of five farmers said that recruitment had been harder last year than before. Less than half of respondents (42%) said they had the amount of labour they needed.
Respondents warned that if some sort of answer to the problem of sourcing seasonal labour is not found by next year, they would have to decrease production – which could lead to a substantial rise in prices.
The Government has said that it is not prioritising finding an answer to this problem of recruiting seasonal labour because there are plenty of people in the UK who are looking for work, and they could fill the vacancies. The industry has pointed out that these unemployed people are not well represented in agricultural areas.