Producers highlighted the integral role that EU workers play in the function of their businesses, and the need for the post-Brexit immigration system to include a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) that allows for seasonal workers to work on Scottish farms for up to ten months in a year.
In the last 20 years, the scale of the Scottish soft fruit and vegetable industry has increased in dramatically, due to improvements in the marketplace and efficiency and a ready supply of labour from the EU.
President of NFU Scotland, Andrew McCornick, said: “It is always welcome to see government ministers visiting farms to hear first-hand about the challenges facing producers and I am pleased that Mr Walker and Dr Duncan were in listening mode at the meeting.
“There is not a single fruit farm in Scotland that could operate without access to overseas workers and there are many other agricultural businesses which rely on such employees. It is estimated that there are between 5,000 and 15,000 seasonal workers employed within the Scottish agricultural sector at any one time.
“There is not a single fruit farm in Scotland that could operate without access to overseas workers” Andrew McCornick
“The producers present at the meeting highlighted that they have already witnessed a drop in the numbers of EU workers coming to work on Scottish farms this season – due to a range of factors linked to the drop in the value of their wages and EU nationals not feeling welcome in the UK.
“Without this supply of labour, crops are likely to be left unharvested and wasted. More food will have to be imported, driving up food prices. Depending on the post-Brexit trade agreements, this may make certain sectors less competitive on world markets, or make businesses unviable, resulting in challenges to UK production and domestic food security.
“This is hugely concerning and damaging to the confidence of Scottish producers, and NFUS is calling upon UK Government to give reassurance to EU nationals who are needed and valued within agriculture and local economies. NFUS will make strong representations to the Migration Advisory Committee recently appointed by the Home Office to this effect.
“We also discussed how a future environmental and rural policy might support further innovation and efficiency in the sector post-Brexit. We have invited similar discussions with Mr Walker’s counterparts in the Scottish Government and hope to shortly begin a substantive dialogue on how the different sectors of Scottish agriculture can be allowed to flourish in the post-Brexit landscape.”