Fruit and vegetable farms across the UK were left short of thousands of migrant workers in 2017, leaving some produce to rot in the fields and farmers suffering big losses.
More than 4,300 vacancies went unfilled, according to new survey data from the National Farmers Union (NFU), which covers about half the horticultural labour market. The survey, seen exclusively by the Guardian, shows more than 99% of the seasonal workers recruited came from eastern Europe, with just 0.6% from the UK.
Since the vote to leave the European Union in 2016, growers have warned repeatedly of damaging labour shortages, with recruiters reporting that Brexit has created the perception among foreign workers that the UK is xenophobic and racist.
The government, which has pledged to reduce immigration, has so far rejected calls to reinstate a seasonal agricultural workers scheme (Saws). Facing uncertainty over labour, some farmers have begun moving their production overseas.
The NFU labour survey found that an average of 12.5% of vacancies went unfilled in 2017, the first time there has been a shortfall since the survey began in 2014. The proportion of workers returning to work in the UK after previous years is also dropping fast, from 41% in 2016 to 29% in 2017. The fall in the value of the pound after the Brexit vote has also helped make the UK less attractive.
It’s the last sentence there which is important.
So farmers will have to raise the wages they offer. So sad, eh?