Farmers have called on the government to make essential decisions affecting the availability of non-UK labour with urgency.
Writing to Home Secretary Priti Patel, NFU Scotland has underlined the role in food and farming of non-UK nationals in filling seasonal, temporary and permanent positions across all agricultural commodities and ancillary industries.
These include in abattoirs, processing, packing and manufacturing – delivering British produce from field to fork.
The government is currently planning for a no-deal exit from the EU on 31 October and NFU Scotland regards labour availability as an essential tenet of no-deal contingency planning.
On seasonal staff, growers need to put plans in place now and can’t do so without confidence that a vastly expanded Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme will be in place, it says.
Farmers are also reporting that, increasingly, permanent farm jobs that have previously been filled by EU workers are becoming difficult to fill when workers move on.
In the event of a no deal Brexit, and regardless of whether freedom of movement is agreed, the weakening pound means that EU workers are increasingly likely to go to other parts of the EU than come to the UK.
That means any emergency planning on labour supplies should focus on non-EU countries such as Ukraine and Moldova.
NFU Scotland has asked for an opportunity to discuss its concerns with the Secretary of State soon.
In the letter, President Andrew McCornick writes: “Without non-UK workers the whole agri-food supply chain – farms, processors and hauliers – will be unable to maintain productivity and the current provision of food to UK consumers.
“There is complete reliance of the time-sensitive soft fruit and field vegetable sectors on a non-UK seasonal workforce.
“There is simply no substitute for competent staff, and the UK Government recognised these challenges by setting up the Pilot Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.
Mr McCornick added: “Whilst the Pilot scheme is certainly a step in the right direction, the case is clear that it will not provide nearly enough permits if shortages such as those experienced in 2017 and 2018 arise.
“Far more pressingly, should the Home Office end free movement in the event of a no deal on 31 October 2019 then I implore the government to act with urgency now to ensure up to 80,000 seasonal permits are available for a non-UK workforce to undertake work in the next season,” he said.