British agriculture is facing a labour shortage as recruitment agencies warn they cannot find enough workers to pick this year’s fruit and vegetable harvest, according to BBC News.
More than half of recruitment agencies failed to meet labour demand in the first months of the year, which need fewer workers than the busy summer season. The shortage was highlighted by a report from the Association of Labour Providers.
The National Farmers Union recently published figures showing a 17% drop in seasonal workers travelling to the UK, which led to some produce being left to rot in fields. The horticulture sector needs around 80,000 seasonal workers each year.
Seasonal workers on British farms are largely sourced from Eastern Europe, with two-thirds originating in Bulgaria and Romania.
AG Recruitment and Management sources Romanian labourers to work for 80 growers in the UK. The company says it has to find 4,000 workers over the next few months to pick strawberries, raspberries, apples and pears but has had to call farmers warning them that it is unlikely to be able to supply the workers requested.
Estera Amesz, co-director of AG Recruitment and Management said: “We used to have queues outside our office in Bucharest. Thirty to 40 people would come a day. Now, on a good day, it’s a handful. We used to take the creme de la creme. Now, we are scraping the barrel.”
Amesz said the company was accepting a wider range of fruit pickers than previously in order to try to meet demand and is travelling into the Romanian countryside to recruit rather than wait for the workers to apply.
In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Defra and the Home Office are working closely to ensure the labour needs of the agriculture sector are met once we leave the EU.
“We have been clear that up until December 2020, employers in the agricultural and food processing sectors will be free to recruit EU citizens to fill vacancies and those arriving to work will be able to stay in the UK afterwards.”