The cost of one of Britain’s most popular fruits may “soar” by up to 50% if Brexit restricts EU seasonal workers from picking, according to an industry body.
A report for British Summer Fruits says around 95% of the 29,000 people needed for cultivating and harvesting strawberries and other soft fruit crops were from other EU nations – mainly Poland and Romania.
It predicted demand for staff among farmers would only grow as the industry, currently worth £1.2bn annually, expands but reported that growers were already being damaged by staff shortages following the referendum.
The body said a fixed-term contract Seasonal Agriculture Permit Scheme would allow labourers from Europe to enter the UK “to fill the jobs UK citizens shun” if freedom of movement ends, as the Government intends in the exit negotiations.
Image: Strawberries may have to be imported if pickers are barred from the UK, the industry says
Laurence Olins, British Summer Fruits chairman, said: “This is as extreme as it gets. If we do not have the pickers, we do not have a soft fruit industry.
“It is inconceivable that people who voted to leave the European Union wanted to destroy an iconic and incredibly competitive British horticulture industry, and see the end of buying British produce.
“But if we cannot ensure access to the seasonal workers needed to produce soft fruit in Britain, that will be an unintended consequence of Brexit – along with soaring prices and increased reliance on imports.”
It warned the Treasury would feel the impact too – with income tax, corporation tax and National Insurance revenues all falling.
A grower, Harry Hall of Hall Hunter Partnership, said stopping the flow of migrant labour would be “an unfathomable and astonishing form of national self-harm.”
The Government has previously admitted that there are sections of the economy at risk of employment shortages after Brexit – and it is examining options, ahead of talks with Brussels, on future arrangements.
The Home Office said in April it was looking at plans for “barista visas” to ensure coffee shops and pubs are fully staffed.
Source: SKY News Feed