Scottish growers say they fear a ‘second season where harvest will go unpicked’

Scottish growers say they fear a second successive season where crops will go unpicked due to extreme labour shortages.

National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFUS) president Andrew McCornick said: “NFU Scotland has already established that almost every soft fruit, flower and vegetable unit in Scotland experienced difficulties in recruiting labour in 2017 and, although we are early in the season, reports on permanent and seasonal staff shortages are already coming through.

“It is deeply disappointing that our proposal that the UK Government introduce a scheme similar to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, continues to fall on deaf ears.

“Failure to address this will see Scottish crops go unpicked for a second successive season and this is an issue NFUS has outlined to the Home Office, Defra and the Scotland Office in writing on multiple occasions.”

Among the growers concerned is Chris Logan who farms around 1,800ac of brassica vegetables and potatoes in East Lothian.

The firm also processes and packs its own vegetable crops for all of the major British retailers, as well as export customers in the EU and Canada.

East Lothian Produce has around 50 permanent staff and a further 150 seasonal staff. Most of the firm’s seasonal labour requirements are sourced from the EU as local labour supply is scarce.

‘Unsure about their position in the UK’

“We have experienced difficulties in meeting our labour requirements since the Brexit vote, resulting in problems fulfilling customer orders at peak times,” Logan said.

“Feedback from our EU staff suggests they are unsure about their position and future ability to work in the UK.

“We are concerned that a lack of clarity over access to work in the UK will have a serious and long-term impact on our business.

“We urge the UK Government to confirm that there will be a migrant workers’ scheme, and clarify when it will be in place.

“[Details would mean] that we can continue to operate and grow our business with confidence, and give our seasonal workers, both from within and potentially out with the EU – an assurance that they will still have access to work in the UK.”

A survey conducted by NFU Scotland (NFUS) in January and February 2018, found that 74% of surveyed horticulture and potatoes members had difficulty recruiting non-UK workers in 2017; with almost half reporting difficulty in harvesting crops due to labour shortages.

“100% of respondents are ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the impact labour shortages will have on their businesses in 2018 and beyond,” McCornick said.

“After speaking to flower growers in Grampian, it is clear that the issue of seasonal workers is not just one that is affecting fruit and vegetable farmers and that farmers and growers throughout the industry are already seeing the poor effects on their businesses.”

‘A serious concern for Scottish growers’

McCornick added: “Scotland’s soft fruit and field vegetable sectors rely heavily on thousands of non-UK workers having the ability to come to the UK to carry out, and move between, jobs on farms as harvests complete throughout the season.

“It is a serious concern for the union that with the unknown restrictions, which could come into effect with Brexit alongside the lack of a seasonal workers scheme, Scottish growers will only find it more and more difficult to recruit their much needed seasonal workforce over the next few years.

“As we leave the EU, it is also going to be more and more important that we encourage non-EU workers to come over and join Scottish workforces. We need to be making it easier for seasonal workers from across the board.”