Brexit could be "cataclysmic" for Britain's strawberry industry if the UK loses EU workers

Courtney Goldsmith
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Put down the cream: Your strawberry prices could be on the rise (Source: Getty)

Losing access to European workers will have a "cataclysmic" impact on Britain's thriving strawberry industry, the sector's trade body will today warn.

British Summer Fruits, the trade body representing the UK's soft fruit growers, calls on the government to safeguard seasonal labour as a report to be published today predicts prices could soar by up to 50 per cent.

Over the past 20 years, soft fruit production in the UK has grown by 131 per cent, and the industry, now a staple supermarket purchase, is now worth more than £1.2bn.

Soft fruit growers employ around 29,000 seasonal workers a year, but the sector has a hard time attracting UK staff. Around 95 per cent of workers currently come from the European Union, primarily from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.

"This is as extreme as it gets. If we do not have the pickers, we do not have a soft fruit industry," said Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits.

The trade body recommends reinstating the seasonal agriculture workers scheme, a permit scheme that was in place from 1948 to 2013.

"Farmers and growers need a commitment from government that they will have access to the workforce they need up to, and after we leave the EU. It’s vital that the crucial importance of migration for low-skilled work is recognised," said Alison Capper, chair of the National Farmers Union’s horticulture board.

Don't forget about dairy

Meanwhile, the UK's dairy industry said it is in the nation's interest to prioritise the sector in the Brexit process.

“Uncertainties around Brexit will be a problem for businesses in all sectors in the UK and the EU until negotiations take shape, and the dairy industry in Europe is highly interlinked. We need transition and we need engagement," Dr David Dobbin, chairman of Dairy UK, said yesterday afternoon.

The dairy industry employs 80,000 people, and it called on the government to ensure there is continued access to skilled and unskilled labour for the sector going forward.

Dr Judith Bryans, chief executive of Dairy UK, said: “The dairy industry is working hard to realise its potential. From initiatives to improve export performance, environmental impact, sustainability, and supply chain integrity, to name a few, the sector stands ready to assist the government in any way during the negotiating process."

Read more: Tesco extends winter aid for dairy farmers until April

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