December 13 2013 Latest news:
Michael Pollitt, Agricultural editor
Friday, September 13, 2013
Farmers’ leaders have slammed a decision to scrap the long-running seasonal agricultural workers scheme employing thousands across the eastern region.
Growers employ the lion’s share of about 22,000 students from Romania and Bulgaria picking crops in the fens and in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond, said: “Our grower members will be rightly outraged at this decision by the immigration minister which will have a devastating impact on the horticulture sector in the UK.”
The scheme, which started about 60 years ago to enable mainly students to harvest soft fruit, asparagus and field vegetables, has under-pinned the horticultural industry and enabled more produce to be grown at home.
Norfolk farmers’ leader Richard Hirst said that Saws has been a great success and that the industry had put a strong case to government for it to continue beyond 2013. “Sadly I think this is a political decision,” he added.
Junior home office minister, Mark Harper, said yesterday: “At a time of unemployment in the UK and the European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labour markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry”.
But the NFU added yesterday: “This decision completely contradicts David Cameron’s belief that farmers are the backbone of Britain and the recommendations of the Migrant Advisory Committee that horticulture would suffer immeasurably without access to a reliable, flexible and consistent source of migrant seasonal workers.
“Make no mistake, this will cause a contraction in the British horticulture sector, one which is already suffering from falling self-sufficiency levels. It will put thousands of existing permanent UK jobs at risk, stifle growth, compromise food security, and jeopardise the industry’s efforts to take on hundreds more UK unemployed for permanent work,” added Mr Raymond.
A leading soft fruit specialist, Tim Place, of Place UK, of Tunstead, near Stalham, has become one of the country’s largest supplier of raspberries and strawberries to leading retailers. His business employs more than 300 staff on the seasonal scheme picking fruit.
The British Growers’ Association warned that the UK’s £3.7bn fresh produce sector had been put at risk for short-term political ends. “The horticulture sector is a high-value sector of the rural economy, producing 22pc of the output value of UK farming on just 4pc of the land area,” said chief executive James Hallett.
The scheme has an annual quota of 21,250 workers from Bulgaria and Romania to work for a maximum of six months and it accounts for one-third of the seasonal agricultural work force. The horticultural industry employs a total of about 100,000 full and seasonal workers.
Two hundred jobs are set to be created after one of west Norfolk’s largest businesses was granted permission to expand its King’s Lynn facilities.