Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Shortage of farm workers in the UK 'could see food rot in the ground'

Lizzy Buchan

A shortage of seasonal farm workers in the UK could mean that food will "rot in the ground" this summer, MPs have heard.

Labour's Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) proposed a revival of the former seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which granted temporary visas for migrants to work on British farms, to tackle a "critical shortage" of labourers.

Fears were also raised about "fruit going unpicked" after Brexit due to a reduction in migrant workers from the European Union.

Farming minister George Eustice, who previously worked in the soft fruit industry, said it was clear that farmers faced some challenges in recruiting workers.

Speaking at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions in the Commons, Mr Smith said: "Farmers are facing a critical shortage of seasonal labour. Some are afraid that our food will rot in the ground this year.

"Now the Government has been asked to reverse its decision to scrap the seasonal agriculture workers scheme. Now ministers say they are reviewing the issue but can a decision please be made as a matter of urgency."

In reply, Mr Eustice said: "While we remain members of the European Union we do still have free movement, and fruit farms and farmers are still able to source their labour from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.

"We are aware that some have raised concerns about agricultural labour going forward after we leave the EU, and we are listening carefully to the representations they are making."

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Food industry leaders have previously said that maintaining access to seasonal and permanent labour from overseas was essential to maintaining the UK food supply chain.

Conservative Helen Whately (Faversham and Kent) said: "Growers in my constituency are worried about fruit going unpicked, not only after we leave the EU but also this year.

"Can you assure me that you will continue to press the Home Office on this issue, not only on seasonal agricultural workers after we leave the EU but also between now and then?"

Mr Eustice replied: "We are aware that the availability of labour is a concern for some sectors of the industry.

"However, leaving the EU and establishing controlled migration does not mean closing off all immigration, it simply means that we will be able to identify where we have need and put in place suitable arrangements."

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