FRUIT and vegetable growers are warning crops could be left to rot in fields due to a lack of seasonal workers in the wake of Brexit.
Fields of flowers have already gone to waste due to the shortage and there are now not enough pickers available to harvest Scotland’s valuable fruit and vegetable crops, according to NFU Scotland. A new scheme introduced by the UK Government after Brexit has been blamed for the shortage of hundreds of workers.
Fife soft fruit and veg farmer Iain Brown said soft fruit in particular had been a “success story of the Scottish economy” but the industry was in danger of shrinking if sufficient labour could not be found.
“We are approaching peak season for Scotland’s soft fruit and vegetables and there is the potential that a shortfall in availability of seasonal workers will see crops go unpicked and left to rot in the field,” said Brown, chair of NFU Scotland’s Horticultural Working Group.
“That is a genuine fear based on experience.
“For some of our growers, the season started in the spring with picking flowers where a shortage of workers this year that meant some fields of flowers were not picked.
“Scotland’s growers will do all they can to ensure crops like our tasty strawberries and raspberries can get from field to plate so that as many people as possible can enjoy our fresh, tasty, local produce – but getting all these crops picked will be a challenge.”
Brown said that had economic implications.
“Soft fruit has been a success story of the Scottish economy. Production and consumption of healthy, home-produced fruit has grown but the industry will shrink if sufficient labour cannot be found,” he said.
He warned it was possible the industry could be 1500 workers short of the 10,000 needed each year to help gather in, pack and process Scotland’s high quality, high value soft fruit and vegetables.
Brown said farmers had been on the “sharp end of Government delays” in delivering a new Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme.
“The announcement of the full list of operators for the Seasonal Workers’ Pilot scheme came just a few weeks ago, which was unhelpful and unacceptable,” he said.
“Lessons must be learned from that as we develop the next phase of the Seasonal Workers’ scheme to ensure Government delivers something that works really well for our members and for the workers.”
One of the farmers’ biggest concerns, and a factor in seasonal workers looking elsewhere in Europe for work, is the “very high” visa cost of the scheme relative to the previous seasonal workers’ scheme.
The visa many migrant workers need costs £244 before taking into account the cost of travelling to Scotland.
“This cost is high for both the worker and the grower, affecting the morale of the people picking the fruit and the bottom line of the businesses growing it,” said Brown.
“NFUS wants this red tape and high cost to be looked at as the Home Office learns lessons from this pilot scheme.”
A DEFRA spokesperson said: “This year’s extended seasonal workers pilot will operate in support of the edible horticulture sector to ensure our food security, with food and farming businesses also able to employ EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status to help meet their labour demand.”