Will some of our crops go unharvested after Brexit?

Below are some statistics from the House of Commons Briefing Paper on Migrant Workers in Agriculture:

  • Of the 80,000 strong seasonal workforce in horticulture alone, 98% were migrants from elsewhere in the EU.
  • On average, non-UK born labour accounts for around 11% of the processing workforce in the UK dairy industry.
  • Approximately 40% of staff on egg farms and approximately 50% of staff in egg packing centres were EU migrants.
  • One in five farms and businesses connected to the pig industry would struggle to survive without migrant labour.
  • Of the 35,900 direct employees in the British poultry meat industry, around 60% (21,540) are migrant workers.
  • Around 63% of the workforce of the British red and white meat processing industry are from other EU member states (mainly, but not exclusively, in central and eastern Europe)

It is therefore unsurprising, the concern with which many of us view Defra’s & the Home Department’s trial scheme to offer 2,500 temporary visas to EU Seasonal labours, over the next 2 years.  Whilst Ali Capper, chair of the NFU’s Horticultural & Potatoes Board described it as a “fantastic” start, she also proved it to be highly inadequate, saying “We need more than 11,500 seasonal workers by 2021 to keep pace with a crop that is set to grow.”

Clearly, definite and urgent action needs to be taken.  On a positive note, our new Prime Minister has made at least an initial effort to address the farming community in declaring “”I will always back Britain’s great farmers and as we leave the EU, we need to make sure that Brexit works for them.” However, will this translate into timely and relevant action?  Will Boris Johnson risk fanning the current high feeling against migration, to allow in enough workers to help harvest our crops?  Or will a magic bullet be devised to compel our current youth to look for employment within agriculture?  Time will tell – but in the meantime, what ideas do you have that could help?

Your words count! Don’t hesitate to contact your local MP if you have solutions to offer.  And you can always tell us your thoughts through @foodsecurityltd or info@food-security-ltd.com.