NFUS horticulture committee chairman James Porter has called for a new scheme to allow 20,000 non-EU seasonal workers into the UK each year.
British agriculture has become a less attractive place to work for EU migrants and the industry needs to be able to look outside the EU to source more labour.
This was the call from the chairman of NFU Scotland’s Horticulture committee, James Porter, who pushed for the ‘urgent’ introduction of a scheme allowing 20,000 non-EU seasonal workers into the UK each year.
The problem was only expected to get worse with Brexit and a less favourable exchange rate making the UK less attractive to migrant workers, as EU countries become more affluent.
Mr Porter, a soft fruit grower in Carnoustie, Angus, made the call during a meeting with Prof Alan Manning, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee, a body which focuses on the impact of Brexit on the UK labour market.
Mr Porter said access to workers remained a key priority.
“Long-term, we must be able to continue to source seasonal workers, as we currently do, with the bare minimum of restriction post-Brexit,” he said.
Scottish farms have found it particularly difficult to recruit, with a perception of remote locations and poorer accommodation putting off potential workers.
John Hardman, director of Hops, a horticultrual and agricultural recruitment specialist, said the first port of call would be Ukraine and there could be potential for more recruitment in Serbia, Bosnia and Belarus.
Recruitment programmes with countries outside the EU must start now if the agricultural sector is to maintain production in the coming months.
Mr Hardman said opening up new markets would take time, adding there was a real sense of urgency in the sector.
He said: "It is being talked about. We have had a number of meetings with Defra. They appreciate the problems we are having, but nothing is happening at Ministerial level."
In the poultry sector, where 60 per cent of workers were EU migrants, British Poultry Council public affairs and public relations manager Shraddha Kaul said the sector would be open to hiring more non-EU workers.
She said: “We would be happy with anyone with the right skills, willingness and commitment.”
She added the sector has invested in sourcing more UK labour, but the jobs tended to be in areas of high employment.
Mr Porter agreed, highlighting there were 1,400 long-term unemployed people in Angus but 4,000 seasonal workers were needed.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) said about 95 per cent of vets in the meat hygene sector were from overseas, but since Brexit, two in five were now likely to leave the UK.
BVA president John Fishwick said measures to limit the impact were vital and called on the Government to guarantee existing rights for non-British EU vets and vet nurses currently in the UK.
It also recommended adding vets to the Shortage Occupation List to help prevent a sudden reduction in the veterinary workforce post-Brexit.