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President National Farmers Union:

Labour shortage threatens UK horticulture sector

Britain’s production of fruit, vegetables and flowers could fall unless the government takes action to boost the availability of migrant workers. New technologies are indeed promising, but not yet ready to replace human hands, said Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers Union, on Monday.

“The uncertainty on the future workforce is I think putting huge pressure on the horticulture sector,” Batters told Reuters in an interview just days after being elected the NFU’s first female president.

One of Britain’s largest berry producers, Haygrove in Ledbury, Herefordshire, said earlier this month it was relocating some raspberry and blueberry growing to China because of uncertainty over migrant labour caused by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. “You have virtually zero unemployment in Herefordshire and yet have a requirement for 2,500 seasonal workers. If you haven’t got an availability of people to come and pick and pack and plant and grade those fruit, vegetable and flowers you will potentially see the sector shrinking,” Batters said.

Britain’s decision to leave the EU has also created uncertainty about future access to the most important market for its exports. “Europe has been an absolutely crucial market for British farmers because it is 500 million people on our doorstep. So clarity on what that trade deal looks like is essential.”

Batters said Britain must also become more serious about exploiting opportunities in the global marketplace.


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