NFU horticulture board chairman Ali Capper has hit out at the Government for failing to listen to industry concerns about a seasonal labour shortfall.
In a passionate presentation to the union’s council in Stoneleigh this week, Ms Capper slammed critics who accused her of ‘crying wolf’ about the scale of the problem.
In August, there was an 18 per cent shortfall in seasonal labour, and some labour providers are predicting 60 per cent shortfalls this month.
From January to August, 10 per cent of vacancies went unfilled, despite businesses and labour providers recruiting 25-30 per cent more workers than necessary.
“We have got thousands and thousands of tonnes of unpicked crop,” said Ms Capper.
“We have got hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of turnover which businesses will never get back, and I am being told the last two years I have been crying wolf.
“Well, it has arrived now. The problem is here.”
Ms Capper also criticised the political rhetoric around immigration, which meant the number of people committing to return next year had ‘fallen off a cliff’.
Many feared the money they spent on a flight to the UK would be wasted if they were stopped at the border and sent home.
Workers are concerned about having to post their identification to the Home Office too, a requirement for those without biometric ID cards, who currently make up 95 per cent of seasonal staff.
Ms Capper said: “The return rates are really important. For 2016, the average across industry was 41 per cent. For the good farms, the return rate is 70-80 per cent.
“If we do not get those returnees, the scale of the recruitment challenge is so much harder.
“Do I think we have got a Government which is listening? I am afraid I do not.”
The Home Office has previously said the Seasonal Workers Pilot, which allows 2,500 workers from outside the EU to enter the UK, will be kept under ongoing review to determine long-term arrangements.