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Brexit: Response to Migration Advisory Committee report

Brexit: Migration Advisory Committee

A labour shortage for horticulture could seriously jeopardise the UK fruit and vegetable supply, and the Soil Association is calling for the government to maintain the supply of seasonal migrant labour to agriculture and for work to start now to inspire young people to take up careers in horticulture.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report published yesterday (18 September) advised government that post-Brexit there should be no sector specific migration schemes - except possibly for one to supply seasonal labour in agriculture.

Sam Packer, Soil Association policy officer, said: “We welcome the recommendation to government today from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) final report on EEA migration in the UK that a migration scheme with the EU is needed to supply seasonal labour for agriculture in order to avoid the closure of many agriculture businesses in the short-term.

“While the committee states that a contraction of the agriculture sector would not be catastrophic for the UK economy, it could seriously jeopardise the supply of fruit and vegetables in the UK, potentially leading to higher food prices.

“The UK’s horticulture industry is heavily reliant on migrant workers with an estimated 98% of seasonal workers recruited from the EU and industry is already struggling to find enough candidates with businesses seeing a shortfall of up to 29% during last year’s harvest.

“Research carried out by the Soil Association indicates that British younger generations hold the answer in the long-term for the horticultural sector, but this would require a shift in attitudes that won’t happen overnight and should be underpinned by training support, higher wages and greater employee empowerment. Technological innovation such as robotics has a role to play, but will not fill the labour gap in the short term.

“The government must therefore commit to maintaining the supply of seasonal migrant labour to agriculture outside of the EU.

“In the long term, a new vision of horticulture is needed to show how it can appeal to the younger generations’ values by delivering autonomy, social responsibility and community engagement.”

For more on the research and recommendations on how to inspire people into horticulture careers, see the Digging into Horticulture: Encouraging the Next Generation of Producers report.