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Ag worker shortages pose real risk to UK food supplies unless we act now

There are real concerns to address in the farming industry around maintaining a labour force that is sustainable beyond the twoyear post-Brexit transition period, writes John Procter.

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Ag worker shortages pose real risk to UK food supplies unless we act now

If the UK is able to harvest its crops and keep up with demand for meat, it is going to be essential to have a large enough workforce ready to take on the task.

 

The accurate matching of workforce visas and new recruitment to demand is going to be crucial.

 

Despite the potential boost to the UK farming industry gained from the extra 2,500 short-term visas now available to seasonal agricultural workers from outside the EU, the combined impact of Brexit, the weakening of the pound and competitiveness of other economies in the EU means that UK farming will really need to open the industry to a wider range of willing workers.

 

Farmers have coped with seasonal pressures in arable farming, thanks to migrant workers arriving to top up their workforce at peak production times, often filling vacancies that are simply unable to be filled locally.


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Threatened

 

Without this type of additional labour, food supplies would flounder and the supply of many British seasonal favourites, such as Brussels sprouts and Wimbledon strawberries, would be seriously threatened.

 

On the other hand, livestock farming places huge year-round demands on farmers and, without the availability of additional workers, which in recent times have usually come from the EU, we may well find that production rates are severely affected and food supplies restricted.

 

If we are to capitalise on Britain leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, then as well as looking abroad to fill vacancies, the UK needs to be more innovative in the way it invests in graduates and supports apprenticeships aimed at encouraging new ‘home-grown’ workers into the industry.

 

Without a strategic approach to closing the gaps in our future labour supply chain, we will be heading for food shortages.

 

In my view, it is imperative that positive action is taken now in order to take full advantage of the opportunities to attract workers into the industry, whether that be by attracting youngsters or widening the visa system to provide the necessary labour that will be necessary to meet food demands.

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