Farmers and growers are not struggling to find workers because of Brexit, but because eastern European economies are booming, according to former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson.
Mr Paterson made the comments during a parliamentary debate on seasonal agricultural workers led by Neil Parish MP.
He pointed out wages in Hungary had risen by 15 per cent over the past year, and for skilled workers, the increase was even greater at 25 per cent. The Hungarian forint has also rocketed 20 per cent in value.
In Romania, economic growth is around 5 per cent, with a jobless rate not far below Scandinavian levels.
“We have the opportunity once we get back control of our borders to look well outside Europe for labour – we will have to”, Mr Paterson said.
“We are going to find the Romanians and the Poles are probably going to stay at home. We had better wake up to this.”
He called on the Government to introduce something similar to New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employers Scheme.
The programme requires employers to take all reasonable steps to recruit New Zealanders to available positions; pay the market rate for work so there is no competition with domestic labour and cover half the cost of the worker’s return air fare.
If a worker illegally overstays, the employer is also expected to pay for them to be sent home.
The parliamentary debate coincided with the release of a new report from the NFU which said the supply of seasonal workers for the next two seasons was now in jeopardy.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “A solution, such as a suite of visa or permit schemes, is urgently needed to avoid losing a critical number of workers which could jeopardise future harvests and food production.”
Farming Minister George Eustice said he had asked his officials to continue to monitor the situation closely.