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Brexit already causing farm losses in UK

15 November 20170 comments

Fruit and vegetable crops are being left to rot on British farms because of a shortage of labour blamed on last year’s Brexit vote.

Britain’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has called the UK Government to implement a seasonal agricultural workers scheme to fix the problem.

The UK media has reported farmers reporting a 20 per cent drop in available labour.

And the NFU’s monthly labour survey showed a 29 per cent shortfall in seasonal workers for horticulture businesses in September, up from 17 per cent in May.

Britain’s agricultural industry is critically dependent on pickers from the EU — notably Eastern Europe — for seasonal work.

Low unemployment rates and the seasonal nature of farm work makes it difficult to attract local workers.

At the same time the UK has also become less attractive to seasonal workers because the fall in the value of the pound against the euro since Britain voted to leave the EU.

In one case highlighted in the UK media, a fruit farmer in Scotland had to leave around 75,000 tons of blueberries to waste because of a labour shortage, which cost him £500,000.

A farmer in Kent was unable to find enough labour to pick 100 tons of raspberries, out of a total of 2,000 tons, which cost him £700,000, said

The NFU says that broccoli, cauliflower and pumpkins are also rotting in fields.

The UK Government has commissioned advice from the migration advisory committee to better understand reliance on EU migrant workers across the wider economy and says it will work with the agriculture industry to consider their specific needs.

According to the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there were 67,000 seasonal workers in 2015, while farming industry figures put the number at about 80,000.

Earlier this year, a panel of food policy experts says the British Government is “sleepwalking” into a post-Brexit future of insecure, unsafe and increasingly expensive food supplies, and has little idea how it will replace decades of EU regulation on the issue.

The study said ministers and the public have become complacent after decades of consistent food supplies and stable prices for the UK, something greatly helped by the EU.

“With the Brexit deadline in 14 months, this is a serious policy failure on an unprecedented scale,” the report by academics from three leading universities said.

“We are surprised at the failure of the government to address a huge set of issues related to food and agriculture. They give the impression of sort of sleepwalking into this,” they said.

Their 88-page report says that large elements of EU agricultural and fisheries policies would need major reform even if Britain remained a member.

But it warns that departure from the EU raises such urgent complications for food and agriculture that without focus on the issue “the risk is that food security in the UK will be seriously undermined”, leading to dwindling supplies and erratic prices.

The report found that Brexit was already causing problems for many rural employers. Forty four per cent of those surveyed said they had experienced a reduction in the availability of migrant labour over the past year.

The impact was not restricted to crop pickers. The survey also highlighted that one in ten of those surveyed employ migrant workers in managerial positions and almost a quarter of respondents said they worked in skilled roles.

And although overseas labour peaks during harvest months, the survey shows migrant workers are employed all year round within rural businesses in the UK.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist