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Seasonal labour: Who will pick our crops?

With Britons seemingly unwilling to labour in our fields, there’s a stark question – who exactly will pick our crops and process our food in the future?

A survey by the NFU showed that numbers of seasonal workers coming to work on British farms has dropped by 17%, leaving some businesses critically short of people to harvest fruit and veg. Britain needs some 80,000 seasonal workers to harvest the nine million tonnes of fruit, vegetables and flowers produced each year, and another 13,000 are needed to prepare poultry for our Christmas dinner tables.

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The startling fact is that currently more than three-quarters of the workers picking, processing and packing our fruit and veg come from eastern Europe. Almost 60% of the seasonal Christmas workforce plucking and packing our much-loved festive birds come from beyond our shores.

The industry needs commitment that there will be sufficient numbers of permanent and seasonal workers from outside the UK post-Brexit. The food and farming sector, worth £109 billion, provides the raw ingredients that feed the nation and there must be recognition of its importance to the UK economy.

NFU President Meurig Raymond says “it’s crucial for the government to ensure farming has access to a competent and reliable workforce, now and post-Brexit. The supply of seasonal workers for 2018 and 2019 seasons is now in jeopardy, says the NFU. It takes time to recruit large numbers of people, and overseas workers need to feel confident that they will be allowed to come and work in the UK in future. The government must therefore, as a priority, establish a system to enable sufficient recruitment of seasonal labour before Brexit.”

The NFU says that the government must provide clarity, as a matter of priority, on the status of EU nationals living and working in the UK, given that many permanent workers in the agri-food sector are EU nationals.

Find out more about the NFU's work on Brexit issues such as labour and trade here.

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  • Posted by: Mrs. M.A.JefferyPosted on: 17/09/2017 14:30:03

    Comment: In the passed we seem to always have people to pick crops, I remeber picking soft fruit and apples at my local farm, also helping to sort apples. In the school holidays we were able to take our children (is this part of the reason. Perhaps some people get too much benefit, so it is NOT WORTH WORKING, the unemployment may be down in some areas, but not everwhere. Were we harder, keener, did not mind other people knowing we worked at the farm? after all it is a well worth job,
  • Posted by: Diane ColesPosted on: 17/09/2017 21:26:57

    Comment: I hope the NFU will work with and support NFYFC's stance on the subject of seasonal labour. HOPS labour solutions is NFYFC's subsidiary company which has been bringing seasonal workers to the UK for many years. If both parties lobby government and local MPs to take this matter seriously before it is too late.
  • Posted by: Sue AtterPosted on: 15/10/2017 14:05:34

    Comment: I try to buy British produced food where, and when i can. The biggest change i have noticed in the last year,is trying to buy British Sugar. Living in East Anglia, i am surrounded by the stuff, but for many reasons, i do my shopping on line, i have changed supermarkets several times before because that particular store stopped selling Silver Spoon, the latest one to stop selling/stocking is Tesco. why have so many stores stopped selling it? I can still buy Silver Spoon from Morrisons [ i think] but i cannot have it delivered as they do not deliver in my area. So where can i buy Silver Spoon Sugar from? other local/British produce i can buy locally from my local butcher/baker/greengrocer, but sugar?
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