Scottish MPs have witnessed the escalating labour crisis facing soft fruit farms after a fact-finding mission to local producers yesterday.
Fruit farms are heavily reliant on seasonal workers from central and eastern Europe and fears are rising that a current shortage of staff could turn into a disaster after Brexit.
Amid reports of crops being left to rot, a recent report by members of the Scottish affairs committee at Westminster urged the UK Government to introduce a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme to enable migrants to work in Scotland.
And MPs on the committee yesterday visited fruit farms at Alyth, Angus and the Borders to hear the concerns for themselves.
Committee chairman Pete Wishart said: “Today’s trip to Alyth was not only a chance for members of the Scottish affairs committee to visit a vital part of Scotland’s agricultural sector, but also a chance to hear first-hand from those on the front line about the need for a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme – something we recommended in our recent Immigration and Scotland report.
“Nobody wants to see fruit and vegetables go to waste in the fields due to labour shortages, and we hope to see the necessary support provided to Scottish farmers without delay.”
A Scottish Government study recently estimated there were about 9,255 seasonal agricultural workers employed in Scotland last year, below what was required, but only 40% of those workers said they were certain to return this year.
Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid said: “There are undoubtedly challenges facing fruit farms across the north-east.
“Improving living standards and wages in the likes of Poland and Latvia are making it easier for skilled pickers to earn a crust closer to home.
“No one wants to see fruit rotting in the fields and the UK Government has pledged to stop that happening.”
The National Farmers’ Union has said any new seasonal workers scheme should cover non-EU as well as EU citizens.
NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy said: “To see quality Scottish produce wasting in fields and polytunnels is appalling.
“The loss in potential value and revenue to businesses and the wider rural economy must be recognised and addressed.
“Our survey of soft fruit and vegetable growers at the start of this year predicted that, without reinstatement of an effective seasonal workers scheme, the difficulties in recruiting staff in 2017 would only be exacerbated this season.”