Young Brits could solve farm labour shortage, says Leadsom

Britons should take up farm labouring and fruit picking jobs currently done by EU migrants after Brexit, says Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom.

Finding local workers to complete farm jobs, such as fruit or vegetable picking, is often difficult for UK farm business employers, who say they are not interested.

But Mrs Leadsom says more young people should be encouraged to “engage with countryside matters” to take up such jobs and a career in food and farming should be viewed as more appealing.

See also: Andrea Leadsom to set out post-Brexit vision for farming

Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom © Ben Cawthra/REX/Shutterstock

Speaking at a Conservative Party conference fringe event on Sunday (2 October), Mrs Leadsom was asked about the effect of tougher immigration controls after the UK leaves the European Union.

She said: “There are two sorts of employee who have migrated to this country. The first is permanent employees who have come here from the EU or from elsewhere in the world.

“As has been made very clear, it is not Theresa May’s intention to deport anyone unless our European colleagues announce their intention to do likewise.

“So, she is absolutely intending that those people who come here and do a great job in our food and farming sector continue to do that.

“The other side of it is the seasonal workers. Of course, before we joined the EU we had a very good programme of seasonal workers’ licences and it is not beyond the wit of man to have such a thing in future.”

“We would have to close without access to migrant labour. We simply couldn’t run our vegetable business without EU migrant workers.”
Guy Poskitt

Mrs Leadsom was asked if Britons could do the jobs currently seen as the reserve of EU migrants.

She said: “We could get British people doing those jobs and that tempts me to stray into the whole issue of why wages aren’t higher and so on.

“My absolute hope is that with more apprenticeships, with more young people being encouraged to engage with countryside matters, that actually the concept of a career in food production is going to be much more appealing going forward.”

‘Work does not suit’

However, farm businesses say they struggle to attract local workers, and say more must be done to incentivise local people to take up jobs in horticulture or agriculture.

East Yorkshire grower Guy Poskitt told Farmers Weekly it is incredibly difficult to attract local workers.

MH Poskitt is a family-owned farming business based in the East Riding of Yorkshire, specialising in the growing of root vegetables for leading supermarkets.

Mr Poskitt handed four jobs to Britons in one week last month. But by the end of the week just one worker remained because the work “did not suit the others”.

“We would have to close without access to migrant labour,” he said. “We simply couldn’t run our vegetable business without EU migrant workers.”