Labour availability ‘not meeting demand’, Fruit Focus delegates told

Fruit Focus 2017 in Kent.

Fruit Focus 2017 in Kent. - Credit: Archant

Fruit farmers and vineyard owners are looking forward to a bright future with the advance of technology, in spite of the challenges posed by labour availability, a sector conference heard this month.

Delegates at Fruit Focus, which took place in Kent on July 19, debated Brexit policies with MPs, learnt about crop protection and nutrition and got to see the latest labour-saving machines in action.

“We’re at a bit of a crossroads,” said National Farmers’ Union (NFU) horticulture adviser Amy Gray. “We need 80,000 seasonal workers and 10,000 permanent workers each year, and we’re seeing increasing numbers of people saying labour supply isn’t meeting demand.” In May there was a 16.4% shortfall in worker availability – or about 4,500 jobs across the UK, she said. Without the workforce, over 99% of which was eastern European, the fruit sector would suffer catastrophic losses, she warned.

Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, said it was essential that the Government establish a new seasonal workers scheme as quickly as possible, or consumers would see soft fruit prices soar by up to 50%.

Farming minister George Eustice, who visited the event, assured visitors that the Government was well aware of the labour issue and was monitoring developments closely.

Mr Eustice also opened the new NIAB EMR Water Efficient Technologies (WET) centre, which showcases the latest developments in irrigation management and moisture sensing technology.