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A report in The Observer yesterday suggests that the rise of the UK Independence Party (‘Ukip’) and general anti-immigration sentiment is reducing the number of foreign temporary workers available for farmers and could impact harvesting this year.
Alastair Brooks, who employs 200 temporary foreign workers to pick strawberries and raspberries at Langdon Manor Farm in Faversham, Kent told The Observer, "We can see there's a toxic mix brewing. People have understandable concerns about immigration, but temporary migrant workers have got tied up in the debate," he said.
Brooks, who farms 130 acres devoted to fruit claims that, without foreign workers, he will have to cut production and the National Farmers Union (‘NFU’) is suggesting that many other farmers are in a similar position.
A shortage of foreign workers in 2007 and 2008 resulted in crops being left unharvested. Since then, the seasonal agricultural workers' scheme (‘Saws’), which supplies about a third of the sector's temporary labour, has been open only to Romanians and Bulgarians. However, at the end of this year, both countries' citizens will gain full access to the EU job market and there are concerns that many of the 21,500 on the Saws scheme will look for permanent jobs rather than seasonal work. Many might also to choose to work in countries closer to home such as the booling German economy.
For this reason, the NFU warns that finding a successor to Saws is now critical if the UK's £3.1bn horticulture industry is going to thrive. The union's concerns are echoed by the government's migration advisory committee (Mac), which has warned that a shortage of seasonal migrant labour would lead to a 10% to 15% rise in supermarket prices.
An NFU survey found that more than 95% of growers who used Saws last year believed the end of the scheme would have a negative impact on business.