The price of strawberries and other British summer fruit will “soar” if Brexit negotiations fail to allow for seasonal labourers from Europe to cultivate and harvest the crops, according to a report.
Prices for strawberries and raspberries will rise by 35% to 50% if Brexit restricts access to EU labour, the report by farm business consultants Andersons for industry body British Summer Fruits predicts.
It also foresees a slump in Government revenue from income tax, corporation tax and National Insurance, falling soft fruit consumption, less soft fruit being grown in the UK and growers going out of business.
The report concludes the UK would experience significantly reduced food self-sufficiency and a negative shift on the UK’s balance of payments as a result of increased imports if growers could no longer employ seasonal workers from the EU.
British Summer Fruits said soft fruit production in the UK had grown by 131% over the last 20 years to a value of more than £1.2 billion, largely as a result of an increase in home-grown strawberries.
It said Brexit was already exacerbating a shortage of the seasonal labour and has warned MPs that losing access to European workers will have a “disastrous and cataclysmic” impact on the industry.
Around 95% of the 29,000 seasonal workers each year currently come from the EU - primarily from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania - and demand is expected to rise to around 31,000 by 2020 if the industry continues to grow, the organisation said.
It has called for a Seasonal Agriculture Permit Scheme which would allow labourers from Europe to enter the UK on fixed-term contracts “to fill the jobs UK citizens shun”.
British Summer Fruits chairman Laurence Olins said: “This is as extreme as it gets. If we do not have the pickers, we do not have a soft fruit industry.
“It is inconceivable that people who voted to leave the European Union wanted to destroy an iconic and incredibly competitive British horticulture industry, and see the end of buying British produce.
“But if we cannot ensure access to the seasonal workers needed to produce soft fruit in Britain, that will be an unintended consequence of Brexit - along with soaring prices and increased reliance on imports.”
Grower Harry Hall, of Hall Hunter Partnership, said: “Britain has a thriving, fast expanding berry industry, growing the best berries in the world. We should be driving it forward in or out of Europe.
“There is no doubt that if the Government chooses to stop the 29,000 hard-working migrant labour force working on our farms and nurseries it will be an unfathomable and astonishing form of national self-harm.”
Alison Capper, chairwoman of the National Farmers Union’s Horticulture Board, said: “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. Until now, high skilled migration has received priority treatment. We challenge why this should be the case, when vital sectors of the economy - such as food and drink - rely heavily on large numbers of EU workers.”