Restaurants may have problems sourcing enough fresh produce as well as recruiting staff this summer if the government does not relax new immigration laws, farmers have warned.
Summer crops of fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, raspberries, broad beans and courgettes could be left to rot because farmers are unable to find enough workers to pick them.
For years, fruit and vegetable farmers have been almost totally dependent on foreign workers for harvesting crops, but since the number allowed into the country under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme were cut to address a sharp increase in migration from Eastern Europe, they have struggled to find enough labour.
The proposed Points Based System (PBS) that will assess each migrants` application based on their skills will also present problems, the NFU has warned.
The NFU Scotland says it wrote to UK Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, two months ago, but has so far not received a response.
“The situation is hugely frustrating. We warned the UK Government in good time of the problems that lay ahead. Not only is no solution forthcoming, but we haven’t even had the courtesy of a reply to our letter,” said NFU Scotland’s Crops Policy Manager, Peter Loggie.
“This is not a question of long-term or permanent immigration; for years farmers have relied on seasonal workers who have come to work for the duration of the harvest and returned home afterwards. In the midst of concerns about food security, it is a scandal that the UK Government could allow food to rot in its own back yard, when it is in its gift to do something about it.
“The Scottish soft fruit and field vegetable sector is a real success story. Innovation and efficiency have led to new varieties and longer growing seasons, meaning that Scottish shoppers are able to buy our iconic strawberries and raspberries for more months of the year. However, farmers’ businesses will be at risk and summer fruits and vegetables could be off the menu if the migrant worker situation is not resolved.”
Loggie said the NFU had received reports from farmers in England and Scotland about the problem. He said one herb farmer, unable to pick his harvest, had been forced to import a replacement crop to uphold his supply contract.
Earlier this year, owners of Indian restaurants also expressed their concern about a coming labour shortage if the PBS is introduced.
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