British farmers struggling to recruit seasonal workers

British farmers are struggling to recruit seasonal workers amid a shortage of workers harvesting crops, according to a new survey conducted by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

There are approximately 80,000 seasonal workers in Britain that pick and process fruit and vegetables – most of them from Bulgaria and Romania.

However, the number of seasonal workers working on UK farms has dropped by 17%.

Since the vote to leave the European Union, it’s become harder for farmers to recruit workers. The farming sector believes that the Brexit vote has been partly responsible for the problem, a problem that will only get worse if the industry loses access to non-UK workers.

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NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper said: “A lack of clarity regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU and a weakened sterling has contributed to the reduction in workers on farm now being reported by labour providers who source seasonal workers.

“Farmers and growers need to know how the government will deal with the need from industries that rely on seasonal workers and the NFU is calling for reassurance farmers will be able to source a reliable and competent workforce both now and in the future.

“Without that, this trend is likely to continue and at this stage in the season any further tightening in the workforce will hit hard on farms.”

The survey revealed that labour providers are unable to meet British demand for farm workers. The NFU is calling for a pledge from the government that farmers and growers will have continue to have access to sufficient numbers of permanent and seasonal workers from outside Britain once the country leaves the EU. 

Mrs Capper added: “Returnees are absolutely vital. Their past experience and technical ability makes them so valuable and losing them is a big concern.

“This robust survey represents 30% of the total seasonal workforce and it is crucial government understands the importance of seasonal workers to an industry that provides the raw ingredients to feed the nation.”

According to British Summer Fruits Chairman Laurence Olins, production could move elsewhere and make Britain depend on importing fruit and vegetables from other countries such as France, Germany, Poland and the U.S.

“Until those countries gear up to supply our needs, we will pay up to 50 percent more for our berries as it will take years before growers in other countries can respond to our demands,” Olins said. “Buying from other countries will also have an impact on our balance of payments situation as we are buying on a devalued currency, we don’t have a strong pound here.”

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