Future agricultural growth will be fuelled by overseas labour, NFU Deputy says

Farmers are increasingly worried about the prospect of diminised labour once the UK leaves the EU
Farmers are increasingly worried about the prospect of diminised labour once the UK leaves the EU

Access to overseas labour will be needed to drive future economic growth in the agricultural industry, the deputy president of the NFU has said.

Concern is growing among farmers that the UK government will be restricting migrant labour once the UK leaves the EU.

The first of this season's party conference fringe events co-hosted by the NFU and the Food and Drink Federation was attended by 80 people at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth.

One of the key issues discussed was access to labour post-Brexit.



Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake spoke about his concern that farming would struggle to make a success of Brexit due to recruitment difficulties, with the sector being forced to compete against other sectors, such as construction and nursing, for a shrinking pool of labour.

He complained that, despite seeming to listen to others, there’s no evidence of any action being taken on key issues such as labour and trade.



NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said that in a country with less than 4.5% unemployment, access to overseas labour will be needed to drive future economic growth.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London's Centre for Food Policy, said he believes there are ‘dire’ prospects around long-term recruitment challenges.

'Economic damage'

The farming industry has frequently warned of "significant economic damage" if migration from the EU declines dramatically post-Brexit.

The number of seasonal workers coming to Britain's farms from the EU has dropped 17% and the outlook for the next two seasons is 'in jeopardy', according to a report.

The latest report from the NFU's Vision for the Future of Farming said the industry had 'growing concerns'.

It urged the government to create an immigration policy to offer appropriate visas for recruiting seasonal labour overseas.



"It is crucial that the government addresses these concerns immediately to ensure that farming has access to a competent and reliable workforce," said NFU president Meurig Raymond.

"A solution, such as a suite of visa or permit schemes is urgently needed to avoid losing a critical number of workers that could jeopardise future harvests and food production."

Freedom of movement between the UK and the European Union will end by March 2019, the UK government has confirmed.