Farm labour shortage debate stirred at NFUS hustings

Access to labour is the biggest single issue affecting Scottish farm businesses, a post-Highland Show virtual hustings event was told.

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy hosted the online event which brought together representatives from the four main political parties in Scotland – the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Labour was a “massive issue” on Scottish farms, Mr Kennedy said, while attempts to attract more domestic workers into the industry “simply had not worked”.

See also: Scottish parties set out their stalls for general election

Politicians were asked about their parties’ plans to address the “serious labour shortage” on Scottish farms, for both temporary and permanent workers.

Former Conservative MP Luke Graham said the current government had expanded the Seasonal Worker Scheme, which sources temporary overseas workers into horticulture and the poultry sector, for a further five years.

Mr Graham also argued that more work could be done to attract more of the 11 million people in the UK who could work, but did not have jobs, into the agricultural sector.

SNP councillor Seamus Logan said the industry had been left with seasonal worker and visa schemes for migrant workers which were both “completely unfit for purpose” when it came to agriculture.

He argued the UK should rejoin the EU, as until Brexit it was much easier to source vets, temporary farmworkers and abattoir workers.

“We don’t have enough vets to cope with farmers’ needs, whereas before 2016 there was very good veterinary co-operation,” he said.

“We can’t get people to come and pick crops. Two-thirds of local abattoirs in Scotland are under threat because they can’t get the workers.”

Visa system ‘broken’ 

Claire McLaren, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for agriculture, said her party would scrap the government’s “broken” visa system and the “arbitrary” salary threshold to allow more workers into the agriculture sector.

Labour councillor Graeme Downie said he had visited a farm recently and was told labour was top of the agenda.

Local authorities could do more to advertise agricultural jobs, while bureaucracy prevented the current immigration system from working effectively, he said.

The farming budget, food security, land use, the future of the livestock industry and climate mitigation were among the other main topics debated during the 90-minute online event on Monday 24 June.

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