Fresh fruit could be left rotting in fields this autumn because migrant workers are staying away from Brexit Britain, it has been claimed.
Recruiters of vital seasonal labour say there is a shortfall of about 15,000 workers to meet demand for the rest of 2017.
There is concern that late crops of strawberries and raspberries, plus apples and pears, could be hit, resulting in greater reliance on imported produce.
Fresh fruit could be left rotting in fields this autumn because migrant workers are staying away from Brexit Britain, it has been claimed
Some shoppers have noticed that some strawberries are lasting only a couple of days instead of the usual four or five.
This is because some growers do not have enough workers to pick fruit as soon as it is ripe – and the longer it remains on the plant, the shorter its shelf life.
The Association of Labour Providers, whose members supply the vast majority of seasonal workers, says that a third of agencies do not expect to be able to fill vacancies for the rest of the summer.
About 45 per cent do not think they will be able to find sufficient workers to pick winter vegetables or pluck turkeys for Christmas.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has commissioned a report on migrant workers, which is due to be published in September next year
Most of the 85,000 seasonal workers needed on British farms are recruited from Bulgaria and Romania, with the rest coming from other Eastern European countries.
But many are shunning the UK because of the fall in the value of the pound against the euro and uncertainty over the rights of foreign nationals to remain here after March 2019. Instead, they are heading for farms in Italy, Spain, France and Germany.
Farms hit as rural crime soars
Rural crime has rocketed by 20 per cent in the first six months this year, forcing farmers to turn their premises into fortresses.
Gangs are targeting animals and also quad bikes, tractors, Land Rover Defenders and power tools, says insurance firm NFU Mutual.
More than 1,000 rural police stations were closed between 2000 and 2012, meaning farms are increasingly seen as a soft touch. The rural crimewave is costing an estimated £42.5 million a year, forcing farmers to step up security and invest in CCTV, motion detectors and alarms.
Tim Price, of NFU Mutual, which presents its latest analysis of the problem tomorrow, said: ‘Farmers have no option but to turn their yards into fortresses.’
Jamie Stephen, a farmer in Worcestershire, said: ‘I had a £3,000 quad bike stolen. I was woken by revving and my dogs barking. Someone rode it over the fields to a waiting vehicle.’
Tanya Robbins said her husband checked a van near their farm in Gloucestershire and found it ‘had thermal imaging equipment to find out what we kept in our buildings’.
A Home Office spokesman said last night: ‘Lasting success in tackling rural crime will lie in the response of local services and communities.’
Farming Minister George Eustice has insisted the issue is under review, but trade experts say time is running out, and a new agricultural workers scheme must be agreed to ensure British producers have a reliable workforce.
Ali Capper, chairman of the National Farmers Union horticulture board, said: ‘We’ve had a shortage this summer that is going to be exacerbated this autumn. We need seasonal workers until Christmas. Everyone is really concerned.’
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has commissioned a report on migrant workers, which is due to be published in September next year. But Mrs Capper said: ‘It’s not good enough. We are calling for an interim report by the end of the year which can be implemented in 2018.’
Laurence Olins, chairman of trade body British Summer Fruits, added: ‘At this time of the year strawberry crops are usually picked every other day, but with the shortage of workers it’s only two days a week.’
John Hardman, of the Hops Labour Solutions agency, said: ‘Some people who came here for the summer have already gone home, and others are leaving at the end of the month. There are clear indications we will see fruit rotting in fields. Some firms are also withholding investment and thinking, should they plant crops next year?
‘The worry is some growers could decide to expand abroad and import produce to Britain. We’re advertising in the UK but it’s a non-starter. People here don’t want temporary work in agriculture.’
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has called a meeting of industry representatives to discuss a new seasonal workers’ scheme next month.