Business across “farm to fork” industries are facing a mass retreat of EU workers with the latest study claiming that more than one third of horticultural firms would become “unviable” if they had no access to them.
The research – co-authored by the Fresh Produce Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation – also shows that 47% of horticultural businesses said EU nationals were thinking about leaving Britain, citing “uncertainty” over their future.
And 31% of businesses surveyed had seen EU nationals leave since the referendum last June, while 17% of respondents said they would look to relocate overseas if they had no access to EU nationals.
FDF director general, Ian Wright CBE, believes the results of the report are extremely concerning for businesses across the ‘farm to fork’ industries and joins many other industry professionals to emphasise the importance of EU workers to the agricultural industry.
“It is only a matter of time before the uncertainty reported by businesses results in an irreversible exit of EU workers from these shores,” he says.
“This is a scenario that will hurt the UK culturally and economically.
“Without our dedicated and valued workforce we would be unable to feed the nation. This is why it is imperative that we receive assurances from Government about their future, and that of our wider workforce.”
He adds how an abrupt reduction in the number of EU workers in Britain following Brexit would led to “significant disruption” and how vital it is to carefully managed the situation.
The industry as a whole has been aware about the expectation to reduce reliance on an EU workforce and has been trying to recruit locally and support automated systems where possible.
In light of the findings, the survey includes a number of key recommendations to Government. They include legislation to secure the rights of EEA nationals currently in the UK; recognising the strategic importance of food and drink supply chain; building an attractive and effective migration system; avoiding a cliff-edge scenario when the UK leaves the EU; increasing efficiency through adequate Home Office resourcing; investing in skills provision for the food and drink supply chain and allowing the benefits system to make flexible working easier.