UK Government must follow other countries in creating a labour system that is fit for purpose to make up for the 10,000-person seasonal worker deficit.
Giving examples of how other nations are tackling labour shortages at the first AHDB SmartHort conference, Ali Capper, NFU, told how Germany have access to 60,000 Ukrainian seasonal farm workers, thanks to a new immigration law which has no skills or salary threshold, or a requirement for farmers to prove they cannot source labour locally.
In the Netherlands seasonal workers simply need a temporary work visa, and Poland, which has the largest number of legal migrants in any rich country, welcomes 500,000 non-EU workers, predominantly from Ukraine, to process crop every year.
Ms Capper said that the labour shortage is not selective to the UK, but is a ‘first world’ problem that has nothing to do with Brexit.
“This is not a UK-centred problem, focussed on our Brexit-dominated immigration politics. Across our developed nations we have aging populations and low unemployment levels. I am fed-up of our politicians asking why growers cannot just use local labour.”
The UK needs to recruit 10,000 more seasonal farm workers, but the Seasonal Workers Pilot (SWP) currently only allows 2500 non-EU citizens to stay for up to six months.
Ms Capper continued, “These countries identified an industry that has a need and developed an immigration policy fit for purpose. I would like to see the UK choosing policy measures that would allow us to compete in the same way.
“The USA has 240,000 seasonal workers with a proposal now going into Government for 450,000. Everybody else in the world is facing the same problem as us. Everybody else’s government is putting forward policy measures that work to enable them to support their horticultural sectors.”
Pointing out the value of the horticulture industry to UK farming, Ms Capper said: “Horticulture makes up just two per cent of farmed land area, but 25 per cent of farm gate value. Since 2000 the fruit sector has grown by 204 per cent and veg by 73 per cent. Those are amazing growth statistics to be proud of.”