Tayside and Fife farms fear drop in migrant workers
The Government is under growing pressure to explain how Brexit could impact on Tayside and Fife’s farming industry.
There are widespread fears migrant labourers are choosing to stay in mainland Europe due to the weak pound. EU workers provide nearly all the UK’s seasonal workforce on soft fruit farms.
Andrew Faichney, managing director of East of Scotland Growers, said: “The impact would be catastrophic if we can’t get workers. The industry will simply not grow without a workforce.
“The currency issue is probably the biggest factor. Workers from Europe would see it as a pay cut coming here now and countries like Germany, Belgium and Holland are probably more appealing.”
The SNP’s Perthshire North MSP John Swinney and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart have written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd calling for assurances for the £115 million a year soft fruit sector.
Mr Swinney said: “The farmers I have spoken to are calling out for clarity. I hope that the home secretary will provide answers in the very near future.”
Mr Wishart, who visited local farms to discuss the issue, said: “The soft fruit sector in particular requires a lot of forward planning in terms of crop planting and the organisation of staff to pick the fruit.
“We cannot have a situation where farmers have fruit withering in the fields post-Brexit.”
Barnsmuir Farm, near Crail, employs around 350 pickers every year but owner Rob Stockwell said he expects a drop of up to 15% in his workforce next year.
He said: “We are planning ahead now and have spoken to labour providers that we use in the UK and a couple in Latvia and Romania.
“At the moment we are not planning on planting less. We hope we get the numbers of people that we need, (but) we have got to carry on with the plans we have and try to encourage people to come over.”
Willie Rennie, Liberal Democrat MSP for North East Fife, said: “There have been three farms I have spoken to that have all cobbled together a workforce, but they are struggling.
“There is also a feeling among some workers that they might not be wanted, and that is driving people away. I really fear for a sector that has grown dramatically on the back of Eastern European labour.”