Fruit and veg farmers facing migrant labour shortages

UK summer fruit and salad growers are having difficulty recruiting pickers, with more than half saying they don’t know if they will have enough migrant workers to harvest their crops.

Many growers blame the weak pound which has reduced their workers’ earning power, as well as uncertainty over Brexit, according to a BBC survey.

About 80,000 seasonal workers a year pick and process British fruit and veg.

Most of them are from the European Union, mainly Romania and Bulgaria.

One in five growers says they already have fewer pickers than they need.

British Summer Fruits, the body which represents soft fruit growers, says labour shortages are now the worst seen since 2004.

Recruitment was getting harder even before the vote to leave the EU. But the industry believes Brexit is exacerbating the problem and if access to non-UK workers dries up, it could cripple home-grown berry production.

Big response

Their concern is backed up by an in-depth survey of growers by the BBC.

The questionnaire was sent to members of the British Leafy Salad Association and British Summer Fruits, which represent 90{e85120a690986c003b28f85c6b4de0e089ccbb3c964777e8593c25d2056b3cf6} of growers in their sector.

There was a big response. Three-quarters of growers completed the survey, which was carried out between 16 May and 5 June, as harvesting started to peak.

We asked if they had enough seasonal workers for the start of the main picking season:

 32{e85120a690986c003b28f85c6b4de0e089ccbb3c964777e8593c25d2056b3cf6} said they weren’t sure
 18{e85120a690986c003b28f85c6b4de0e089ccbb3c964777e8593c25d2056b3cf6} said they had slightly fewer than they needed
 Just over 3{e85120a690986c003b28f85c6b4de0e089ccbb3c964777e8593c25d2056b3cf6} reported having many fewer than required
 42{e85120a690986c003b28f85c6b4de0e089ccbb3c964777e8593c25d2056b3cf6} said they had just enough
 1{e85120a690986c003b28f85c6b4de0e089ccbb3c964777e8593c25d2056b3cf6} said they had more than enough

Meanwhile, 78{e85120a690986c003b28f85c6b4de0e089ccbb3c964777e8593c25d2056b3cf6} of respondents said recruitment had been more difficult than last year, with 20{e85120a690986c003b28f85c6b4de0e089ccbb3c964777e8593c25d2056b3cf6} saying it had been the hardest for years.