I write in response to a recent article in The Yorkshire Post outlining concerns raised by Guy Poskitt, chairman of the NFU regional horticulture board, claiming that British horticulture is struggling to survive because of labour shortages, leading to growers in Yorkshire’s fruit and vegetable industry struggling to survive.
I totally support Mr Poskitt’s claims and like him am concerned about the future of UK food production.
It’s important to realise that the workforce shortage has been caused by Brexit and although Covid played a part, Brexit has been the main influence. In 2020, more than 200,000 EU citizens left the UK, driven away by Covid and hostilities following Brexit and have not returned.
Historically, UK agriculture has been reliant on the freedom of movement of EU workers. In 2017, almost 70,00 seasonal workers in fruit picking and vegetable harvesting were from eastern Europe – amounting to 99 per cent of seasonal agricultural workers (Migration Advisory Committee). Staff shortage is now a huge issue and has fallen from between 100-150 daily pickers down to 25 pickers.
The Government, in response, set up a seasonal workers scheme allowing temporary workers to work on farms with 30,000 visas now available and the possibility of expansion if necessary but, according to Defra, this facility will be tapered down in 2023 in order to transition to more UK workers (NFU).
It is easy to see that Brexit was responsible for the decline in horticultural workers leading to problems of production in seasonal fruit and vegetables. It did not have to be like this.