Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough and Whitby who runs an arable farm near Malton, said farmers should work to recruit and retain Britons, but admits that more overseas workers are needed in the short-term to alleviate the current shortage.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) states there are an estimated 500,000 vacancies across the food and drink sector in the UK, due to disruption caused by the new post-Brexit immigration policy and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some farms that are struggling to recruit enough pickers and other seasonal workers, have resorted to giving away fresh produce rather than leaving it to rot.
Mr Goodwill, a pro-Brexit Tory MP, said there are opportunities to take on more British workers and some farmers are now looking to recruit ex-offenders.
He said: “We have a lot of people in this country who are not in work, who possibly have been overlooked by the agriculture and food processing sector because it’s been much easier to get European workers in.
“In the long term, if we can mobilise our own domestic workforce and get them into work that will not only help in terms of recruitment here, but also some of the social problems caused by long-term unemployment.
“I hear stories about British people turning up for work on the first day and then not turning up again. Maybe in the current situation, employers will probably need to work a little bit harder to ensure they can retain those people.”
He added: “In some jobs, like social care and lorry driving, wages have been suppressed by the copious availability of an almost limitless number of overseas workers. That is changing now.“
The NFU has called for the introduction of 12-month Covid-19 recovery visas, to make it easier for overseas workers to take on jobs in the sector, and Mr Goodwill said the Government should look at this proposal “as a matter of urgency”.
He said the Government may also need to “expand the scope” of the Seasonal Workers Pilot, which was set up for horticultural businesses, so it can be used by meat processing companies and smaller farms. The NFU says the scheme, which was extended for a year in December 2020, should be made permanent.
A Government spokesman said: “We understand the importance of seasonal labour in supporting a successful and effective agricultural and food sector.
“This year we expanded the Seasonal Workers Pilot to 30,000 visas for workers to come to the UK for up to six months. We continue to work closely with industry to understand labour demand and supply, including both permanent and seasonal workforce requirements.
“However, we want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad."