LONDON — Britain’s farms face a major labour shortage in the wake of Brexit, according to the country’s biggest farming union.
A survey by the National Union of Farmers (NFU) and seen by the Financial Times found that half the companies providing UK farm labour were unable to fulfil the horticultural sector’s demands for workers between July and September.
The UK’s horticultural sector — the part of agriculture which pertains to crops rather than animals — relies heavily on seasonal migrant workers to carry out labour-intensive tasks such as fruit-picking.
A large majority of those workers come from the EU, and they appear to have been put off by the Brexit vote, and the government’s subsequent plans to cut immigration numbers.
The NFU, which will publish the survey next week, said the available supply of pickers for late-season crops such as potatoes, cabbages and turnips, was only 67% of the demand. That is a 30% decrease on the second quarter, and an even more dramatic contrast to the beginning of the year, when none of the firms reported any problems with labour shortage.
Britain’s farmers receive billions of pounds in subsidies every year from the EU. The NFU passed a motion in favour of remaining in the EU shortly before the June referendum, but did not campaign for Remain, citing the fact that many farmers supported Brexit.
Since then, some farmers have reportedly been “dismayed” by the news that the Brexit vote will have a negative impact on the industry. Speaking in a House of Lords debate in July, Tory peer Lord Montagu said that many farmers had voted for Brexit “without understanding the consequences.”
The NFU has called for the government to introduce a new seasonal visa permit scheme to mitigate the drop in workers.
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