'Food is rotting in the fields and still we see no action', according to the deputy president of the NFU.
Minette Batters has demanded urgent action on seasonal labour decline, as she spoke at the NFU Norfolk AGM at Easton and Otley College.
The NFU’s labour provider’s survey reveals that there was a 29% shortfall in seasonal workers for horticulture businesses in September, raising the average shortfall for the year to 11%.
The survey also shows that the number of returning workers to farms, a critical source of the workforce, fell to 16%, its lowest level all year. The returnee rate had been as high as 65% in January.
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.
“We knew five years ago that we would be facing a shortfall, but then we had Brexit and that massively exacerbates everything,” said Mrs Batters at the AGM.
“Are we seeing fruit and vegetables rotting in the fields? Yes we are. Fruit and veg is rotting in the fields and still we see no action. We absolutely need a commitment to SAWS by 2018. We are making a compelling case, but we need the government to act.”
A previous seasonal agricultural workers scheme was scrapped by Theresa May when she was home secretary, after Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU.
The CLA, a rural organisation which represents around farmers, said that reducing access to migrant labour for farming, horticulture and tourism jobs will have "devastating consequences" for the rural economy.