Seasonal workers needed for harvest

A shortage of seasonal workers threatens next year's fruit and vegetable harvest, a leading Norfolk farmer has warned.

A shortage of seasonal workers threatens next year's fruit and vegetable harvest, a leading Norfolk farmer has warned.

Broadland farmer Richard Hirst, who is the chairman of the National Farmers' Union's horticulture board, said that the industry has been seeking government support for the highly successful seasonal workers scheme.

The NFU expressed disappointment at a report claiming that there is enough labour in Britain and the European Union to meet the needs. It has urged the government to increase the number of seasonal agricultural workers scheme (Saws) permits.

James Potter, the NFU's senior legal adviser, said the report into seasonal labour - The economic and fiscal impact of immigration - did not reflect the real situation facing agriculture and horticulture.

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“Our agricultural labour force survey earlier this year indicated that there was a continuing need for non-EU agricultural workers to have access to our labour market on a seasonal basis and then return home.

“We are asking that the present 16,250 Saws work permits be raised to 21,000 to compensate for the declining participation of workers from other EU countries in our sector,” said Mr Potter.

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“The old Saws allowed non-EU students to work on farms here for up to six months; then they had to return to higher education in their country of origin.

Mr Potter said that next year, Saws will only be open to Bulgarians and Roman-ians who, after their six months' farm work in the UK, will be allowed to stay here. However, they will not be allowed to find legal employment except as nannies, diplomatic staff or by becoming self employed.

Mr Hirst, who has held numerous meetings with officials and ministers, said: “I don't understand the Home Office and how they cannot get it because it has been explained over and over again. It is just quite bizarre.

“There are people out there who are seriously wondering about planning next year's strawberries because they don't know if they'll actually have the labour to pick them,” he said.

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