NFU Scotland’s Seasonal Workers Survey Identifies Labour Shortage Fears

Scotland’s potato, fruit and vegetable sectors are amongst the most pioneering and dynamic – with new technology and innovation offering exciting new opportunities to extend the season and expand the crop, in the face of the somewhat adverse growing conditions in Scotland. And it shows – with the seed potato sector alone delivering c.£100 million to the Scottish economy, and the fruit and vegetable sector growing to almost £300 million last year.

However, a recent survey undertaken by NFU Scotland has suggested that these key sectors of Scottish agriculture are under threat due to labour shortages in the face of unfavourable exchange rates and changing economies in the EU.

The UK’s impending exit from the European Union is compounding these issues, with uncertainty abound as to the availability of work permits for non-UK nationals as the UK Government seeks to tighten immigration controls after Brexit.

NFU Scotland’s Seasonal Workers Survey has found:

  • 100% respondents stated that non-UK seasonal workers were important to their business.
  • In 2016 and 2017, 50% respondents employed 20 or less non-UK staff. 16% respondents employed more than 200 non-UK staff both years.
  • 65% respondents reported that recruiting non-UK workers was more challenging in 2017 than in 2016.
  • 74% anticipate new and increased challenges in recruiting non-UK workers in 2018.
  • 100% of those who completed the survey were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the impact labour shortages would have on their business in 2018 and beyond.
  • 43% respondents reported difficulty in retaining workers, issues with returning workers, challenges with worker productivity, and an increase in overtime hours as a result of a more challenging recruitment environment in 2017.
  • 48% respondents had difficulty harvesting in 2017 due to labour shortages. 
  • When asked what business decisions might have to be taken without access to sufficient seasonal labour:
    • 58% of respondents said they were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to downsize their business
    • 42% said they would cease current activity
    • 52% said they would automate production
    • 61% said they would increase wages to attract staff
    • 55% said they would increase internal skills and development.

NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “With the 2018 season almost upon us, it is vital a solution is found to attract non-UK workers to Scotland to undertake agricultural seasonal work for up to ten months, which has in-built flexibility to allow workers to move from farm-to-farm as harvests complete.

“This is an immediate issue, but what is also becoming of increasing concern is how Scotland’s agricultural and food processing sectors will continue to employ and retain non-UK workers for permanent positions up and down the supply chain after Brexit.

“Next week, NFU Scotland will publish a report ahead of meetings with the UK Government’s Home Office and Members of Parliament.

“The report will identify the pressure points for future labour requirements throughout the Scottish agriculture and food processing sector and it will outline proposals for a new Agricultural Labour Scheme which NFU Scotland believes could satisfy seasonal and permanent, on-farm and off-farm labour needs.”

Notes to Editor

  • Survey ran from 19 January 2018 – 5 February 2018. 54 responses in total and 31 who completed the survey. Respondents were primarily from NFU Scotland’s East Central region. Respondents also came from the NFU Scotland North East, Lothian and Borders, and Highland regions. The 32 respondents made up of growers of soft fruits (each producing an average of 341 tonnes a year); potatoes (each producing an average of 4,982 tonnes a year); and field vegetables (each returning an average of 9,332 tonnes a year).


Contact Douglas Ross on 0131 472 4108

Author: Douglas Ross

Date Published:

News Article No.: 26/18

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About The Author

Douglas Ross

As a graduate in Multimedia Journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University, NFU Scotland’s Communications Assistant Douglas Ross understands how important the media is for communicating with members. As the son of a Highlands farmer, Douglas has been involved in the industry his entire life before joining NFU Scotland in 2017.

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