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Parliamentarians Pitch in as Pickers to Highlight Shortfall in Scottish Seasonal Workforce

Seasonal Workers Scheme needed to prevent more crops rotting in the fields

With high quality crops of Scottish soft fruit now going to waste because of a shortfall in seasonal staff, members of Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee joined NFUS officeholders and staff on a Perthshire soft fruit farm to call for urgent action.

A cross-party group of MPs from the influential committee visited West Jordanstone Farm at Alyth, Blairgowrie where the Marshall family has already had to leave crops to rot due to a lack of available staff to pick them.  Other MPs visited soft fruit farms in Angus and the Borders to show their support.

Pete Wishart MP (Chair of the Committee, SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire); David Duguid (Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan), Hugh Gaffney (Labour MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) and Ged Killen (Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West) joined the Marshalls at West Jordanstone to pick fruit.  Committee Vice Chair John Lamont (Conservative MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) visited Border Berries near Kelso. Although not a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Kirstene Hair (Conservative MP for Angus) met with NFU Scotland’s Horticulture Chair James Porter, who sells berries through Angus Soft Fruits.

Picking fruit at West Jordanstone, NFU Scotland Vice President Martin Kennedy said: “To see quality Scottish produce wasting in fields and polytunnels is appalling and the loss in potential value and revenue to businesses and the wider rural economy must be recognised and addressed.

“Our survey of soft fruit and vegetable growers at the start of this year predicted that, without the reinstatement of an effective seasonal workers scheme, the difficulties encountered in recruiting staff in 2017 would only be exacerbated this season.  

Political dithering on this matter has seen those fears become a reality, the challenge of finding seasonal staff is hitting some producers hard and the distressing sight of crops being left to rot is happening right now.

“Recognising that a crisis was looming, we fed written and oral evidence in to the Scottish Affairs Committee report on immigration that was published last week. We fully endorse its recommendation that the Government introduce a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme at the earliest possible date. That mirrors calls that NFU Scotland has been making for many months now.”

Speaking at West Jordanstone Farm, Pete Wishart MP, Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee said: ““Today’s trip to Alyth was not only a chance for members of the Scottish Affairs Committee to visit a vital part of Scotland’s agricultural sector, but also a chance to hear first-hand from those on the front line about the need for a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme – something we recommended in our recent Immigration and Scotland report.   Nobody wants to see fruit and vegetables go to waste in the fields due to labour shortages, and we hope to see the necessary support provided to Scottish farmers without delay.”

Commenting after visiting Borders Berries near Kelso today, the Committee Vice Chair, John Lamont MP said: “Today was a great opportunity to hear about the concerns and challenges facing the soft fruit industry at Border Berries. They are a great Borders producer and a fantastic asset to the local economy. There is a serious shortage of domestic labour willing to take on this kind of seasonal work, and it is vital the industry is able to recruit from further afield. The Government must urgently re-introduce the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Scheme, as the Committee has recommended.

“Irrespective of Brexit, the labour shortage in the soft fruit industry has escalated over recent years and is now at a critical stage. In some parts of Scotland, fruit is left unpicked and rotting, and the industry will soon be 20,000 workers short of what it needs. Domestic labour and that from the EEA simply isn’t covering it.

“Some farmers are already starting to lose income and need certainty about future hiring arrangements. A seasonal scheme worked well in the past, and would, I believe, work again now. The Government must act before the next harvest.”

Angus MP Kirstene Hair also visited Angus Soft Fruits in her constituency today, where she met NFU Scotland’s Horticultural Chairman James Porter.  She added: “I’ve been very clear since I was elected that we needed a seasonal workers scheme. Now that we’re halfway through the 2018 season, the lack of clarity is having a devastating impact on the industry.

 “This isn’t a Brexit issue – EU countries such as Germany, Spain and Italy are facing identical issues and are increasingly recruiting their migrant labourers from non-EEA countries.

 “The key thing now is for the Home Office to urgently set out a timescale for delivering a scheme that allows our vital soft fruit sector to thrive.”

Notes to Editors

  • Photographs from the visit will be available on request from media@nfus.org.uk after 3pm

 
Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 102/18


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