Committee chair warns of ‘agricultural crisis’ as number of migrant farm workers plummets
The Chair of the Environment Committee has warned of an “agricultural crisis” as plummeting numbers of migrant farm workers has led to food “rotting in fields”.
According to a survey by the National Farmers Union, seen by the Guardian, some 4,300 produce picking jobs were left vacant last year.
The data showed 12.5% of vacancies were unable to be filled in 2017, while the number of migrant workers returning to UK shores for seasonal work has dropped significantly.
It also noted that more than 99% of seasonal workers came from countries like Poland, Romania and Slovakia, with only 0.6% from the UK.
Neil Parish MP, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “It is unacceptable that perfectly good food is rotting in fields.
“At a time of uncertainty around our future trading relationships, we should be increasing our domestic food security rather than our reliance on imported foodstuffs.”
While Minette Batters, NFU deputy president, criticised the Government’s tough approach to legal immigration.
“This is the number one issue for growers. We don’t see it as an immigration problem – it’s about people that come here, are fully regulated and go home again,” she said.
“The Conservative party seem to have taken a very hard line approach.”
Alison Capper, chair of the NFU’s horticulture board added: “Growers are wondering how they are going to get through the  season. There is an element of desperation.”
A government spokeswoman said: “The Government places great value on the UK’s food and farming industries. Until we have left the EU, the UK will remain a member and employers in the agricultural and food processing sectors are free to continue to recruit EU workers.”