A shortage of seasonal workers may result in rotten crops and lost profits, as industry insiders say the government needs to allow non-EU workers into the UK.
Workers from Eastern Europe are said to be choosing to work elsewhere on the Continent, as the implications of Brexit, the weak pound and high travel costs to the UK take their toll.
Stephanie Maurel, chief executive of Concordia, which supplies around 10,000 foreign workers to 200 farms in the UK each year, said the company could be 10% short this year, adding that nationally the picture will be “a lot, lot worse”.
“It’s compounding the misery for growers really who are planting, and literally they are looking out of their windows not knowing if they’re going to have enough workers to harvest and gather in the crops and the fruit,” she said.
She said up to five offers are being put to each seasonal worker and large numbers are not accepting the offers.
“The money itself is reasonable, and that doesn’t come out as a complaint when we do our surveys and focus groups,” added Ms Maurel.
“What does is that the strength of the pound means that when they convert back into euro and to local currency they’re usually better off going to Germany or Scandinavia, because Brexit has actually had an impact on the comparison rates, which is one thing.”
Ms Maurel said as well as rotten crops, there are many other consequences to deal with due to a shortage of seasonal workers, such as businesses going bust, farms going into administration and a hit on investing in British farms.
She said the government needs to give the go-ahead to recruit workers outside the EU.
Alison Capper, a farmer who is chairwoman of the National Farmers’ Union horticulture and potatoes board, said anecdotally it seems growers “have just about enough labour”, but that the industry is “very concerned” about the summer months.
Ms Capper said the consequences of a shortage will be wasted crops and lost revenue and profit, and potentially empty shelves in supermarkets.
She added: “There is a shortage of seasonal workers across Europe.
“Anecdotally, I heard yesterday that Germany have issued more permits for Ukrainians.
“So, every European country has a means to bring non-EU workers to do seasonal work.
“And that’s simply what we need. We need a visa or permit scheme that will enable us to bring non-EU workers to grow, pick and pack fruit and veg.”