The UK Government should compensate soft fruit farmers facing financial ruin as a result of labour shortages, the Scottish Government claims.
The intervention follows warnings from farmers and food producers of staff staffing problems at harvest time.
The shortages have been blamed for crop being left on the vine, leaving growers out of pocket to the tune of almost £2 million.
The UK Government introduced a seasonal agricultural workers scheme after leaving the EU – but it was described by MPs, MSPs, business owners and workers groups as too small in scale.
At Holyrood on Thursday, North East Fife Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie called for details of financial support for businesses afflicted by the labour crisis.
SNP rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said issues with labour shortages in Scotland were the result of decisions made by Westminster.
She said: “The labour shortage on soft fruit farms is a result of UK Government decisions on Brexit.
“It should be the UK Government which funds the costs of their actions.
“Without changes from the UK Government, our industries will continue to suffer.”
She added: “Therefore we will continue to make representations to them.
“We will work with stakeholders to look at all ways to improve the situation.”
She added: “We have been met with little response and little engagement from the UK Government.
“The Scottish Government should not have to continually clean up the mess made by the poor decisions of the UK Government, it should be up to them to compensate and make up for the losses made as a result of their decision making.”
The Lib Dems called for the Scottish and UK Governments to work together to stem the crisis, as well as a relaxation on working visas in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
The UK Government said the country’s food supply chain was “resilient” and the seasonal workers scheme has been expanded for 2021, from 10,000 to 30,000 visas.
After exchanges in Holyrood, Mr Rennie said: “There was a hint of financial support for the minister which was positive but it would be fair for the Conservative government to step up too.
“We also need a Covid recovery visa to attract workers from Europe and beyond together with an extension to the seasonal workers scheme.”
He added: “The reasons for the current problems do include Brexit but also extend to the pandemic and the changing workforce profile in Europe so the Scottish Government does have a responsibility.
“As Scotland is aiming to double the value of the food and drink sector by 2030 we need to ensure we don’t lose any farmers from the sector as we will need everyone to achieve the ambition.”
‘Resilient food supply chain’
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain – which has coped well in responding to unprecedented challenges.
“This year we expanded the Seasonal Workers Pilot to 30,000 visas for workers to come to the UK for up to six months. We continue to work closely with industry to understand labour demand and supply, including both permanent and seasonal workforce requirements.
“However, we want to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad and our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.”