Brexit: Farms continue to face shortage of foreign labour

Many farmers breathed a huge sigh of relief when the UK and EU reached a last-gasp post-Brexit trade deal after nine tortuous months of negotiations.

01-1335 digging potatoes at l'etacq st ouen. Field owned by NS Cook. First field to be dug.  Digging on  Easter Sunday  pic david ferguson  15/4/01
(FARMING) (AGRICULTURE) new spuds, digging potato's, jersey royals (seasonal workers, immigrant labour)
01-1335 digging potatoes at l'etacq st ouen. Field owned by NS Cook. First field to be dug. Digging on Easter Sunday pic david ferguson 15/4/01 (FARMING) (AGRICULTURE) new spuds, digging potato's, jersey royals (seasonal workers, immigrant labour)

The long-awaited trade deal, which came into force when the Brexit transition period ended on December 31, averted a no-deal Brexit – which most agreed would have been a catastrophic development for the agricultural sector.

Although tariffs are no longer a threat, Brexit has meant an end to free movement of labour, leaving food and farming sectors exposed to a potentially huge shortage of seasonal and casual workers which have traditionally been filled by EU nationals.

EU workers who usually came to the UK to carry out jobs such as livestock slaughter and fruit, potato and vegetable picking and packing have struggled to meet the criteria required under the Government’s new points-based system, which allows migrant workers to work in the UK.

The Government has relaxed the rules somewhat for vets, veterinary nurses, butchers, and agricultural engineers. It also announced a seasonal workers pilot for 2021, with an increased quota of 30,000, but a shortfall of workers is still likely.

The National Farmers' Union says it is continuing to monitor the situation closely and is in regular contact with government officials to ensure any issues and solutions are identified. Overall, UK horticulture, where much of the labour is required, needs around 70,000 seasonal workers each year.

Edward Garratt, NFU Shropshire county adviser

Edward Garratt, NFU Shropshire county adviser, said: “Following significant levels of campaigning, briefing and negotiations, seasonal worker scheme permits were increased to 30,000 and an additional two operators were confirmed to assist with recruitment.

“While the peak harvest season is only just under way for many Shropshire growers, we are conscious that seasonal recruitment has been difficult over a number of years.

“Early indications are that this trend is continuing and we will continue to closely monitor how our members are faring.

“In general soft fruit and horticultural production was a couple of weeks later starting than last year, but with encouraging production volumes and quality levels to meet the increasing demand.

“I would urge everyone to continue to support Shropshire farms and county produce when they can and to buy great tasting, seasonal, affordable, climate friendly British food and drink.”

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