4,300 vacancies left unfilled last year due to migrant labour drain, data shows

Just 0.06 percent of seasonal workers came from the UK in 2017, the data shows
Just 0.06 percent of seasonal workers came from the UK in 2017, the data shows

Farmers have experienced losses and were left with food rotting in fields after more than 4,300 vacancies went unfilled last year on fruit and vegetable farms, according to new data.

The data from the NFU's latest survey, seen by The Guardian, looks at horticultural labour in Britain, covering around half of the market.

It shows the heavily reliance the industry leans on with Europe's migrant pool, with 99 percent of seasonal farm workers coming from eastern Europe.

Startlingly, just 0.06 percent of seasonal workers came from the UK.

Since the labour survey began in 2014, last year was the first time there was a shortfall of workers. 12.5 percent of vacancies were left unoccupied in 2017.

It also shows that an increasing number of migrant workers are not coming back to the UK to work. 41 percent of workers came back to work in the UK in 2016, down to 29 percent in 2017.

The data shows that September, seen as crucial harvest time, was the worst month for lack of migrant labour. 29 percent of vacancies were left unoccupied.

'Food is rotting'

The deputy president of the NFU Minette Batters has in the past warned that "food is rotting in the fields", and yet the industry still sees "no action".

The NFU has thus underlined the need for the re-introduction of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme to combat the labour shortfall, something Prime Minister Theresa May has pondered over.

NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said: “It is clear that solutions are still needed to ensure that farmers and growers have access to sufficient numbers of workers for both forthcoming seasons and post-Brexit.

“Access to both seasonal and permanent workers is crucial across all farming sectors and they are crucial to ensuring farmers can continue producing food to feed the nation."

Last year, the drain on labour led Cornwall county council to ask the government for special permission to implement area-specific migration laws.

The NFU labour survey follows the dairy industry making the same worries over lack of migrant labour, with a report released last year describing a "catastrophic failure" within the industry should short term access to overseas workers not be maintained.