Migrant labour shortage leaves British farmers struggling at harvest time

A new survey by the NFU shows the number of migrant labourers on farms down by 17%

Fruit pickers working in intensive fruit farming environment harvest strawberries from poly tunnels in summer sunshine.

A new survey has found that the number of seasonal workers coming to the UK has dropped by 17 %. The survey, by the NFU, reveals that farmers are unable to recruit sufficient numbers of workers to meet growers’ needs during the busy harvesting season. In May alone there were more than 1,500 unfilled vacancies on British farms.

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The survey found that 75% of current migrant labour on farms comes from Romania and Bulgaria.

NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper said: “A lack of clarity regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU and a weakened sterling has contributed to the reduction in workers on farm now being reported by labour providers who source seasonal workers. 

“Farmers and growers need to know how the Government will deal with the need from industries that rely on seasonal workers and the NFU is calling for reassurance farmers will be able to source a reliable and competent workforce both now and in the future.

“Without that, this trend is likely to continue and at this stage in the season any further tightening in the workforce will hit hard on farms.”

The issue was highlighted at a recent BBC Rural Affairs Committee meeting. Among the rural experts gathered by the BBC to share their stories were some farmers who rely on migrant labour for harvesting.

Derek Wilson of Sandfield Farms said that, as overall numbers fell, remaining migrant workers were becoming choosier about where they worked – and farms that provided the best working conditions and accommodation were doing better than those that did not.

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The survey covered 30% of the total seasonal workforce (based on a total of 80,000 – British Growers Association).