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UK apple growers may face a 20% fall in seasonal labour
UK apple growers are in the grip of a 20% shortfall in the supply of seasonal labour, pushing them towards “a cliff edge” as Brexit nears, the industry has warned.
At the start of the annual British apple harvesting season with more than 20 indigenous varieties going on sale in supermarkets, the main trade body for both apples and pears says worries about future labour availability are at the top of its lobbying agenda.
“All British apples are picked by hand, which means that the harvest from orchards is highly labour-intensive,” said Steven Munday, chief executive of the producers’ body English Apples and Pears. “We’re working hard with the National Farmers’ Union and other bodies to lobby for access to the required seasonal labour after Brexit.”
John Hardman of Hops Labour Solutions, a national recruitment agency that provides seasonal and temporary workers for the UK agriculture and horticulture industries, said the devaluation of sterling against the euro since the Brexit vote had already made the UK a less attractive place to work and put thousands of contracts in jeopardy.
Hops typically supplies 12,000 workers from eastern Europe every year to 200 UK farms and suppliers, to fill up to 85,000 seasonal posts which may be consecutive rolling contracts covering a variety of different crops throughout the year or shorter stints.
“We have managed to scrape by this year but 2018 is going to be a cliff edge,” he said. “Apples and pears are a particular problem because it’s such a short season – typically six weeks, which means we cannot attract UK workers because of the welfare system.
“Seasonal workers from the EU who have made their money from picking soft fruit will usually have gone home leaving apples and pears always a bit stretched. My current figures show that the sector is about 20% down.”
That backed up the findings of a survey by the NFU, covering the period January to May 2017, shows the number of labour providers unable to meet the requirements of the farms they supplied rose four-fold. Numbers of seasonal workers coming to work on British farms have dropped 17% during this period, while the number of returnees have fallen even more sharply by 44%.
Publication date: 9/13/2017
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