Quite possibly it will be expected or hoped that unemployed Brits will fill the void. It is very clear that Brexit has a very damaging potential impact on agricultural employment.
The Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association says that nearly half of their members’ full-time employees and more than 9 in every 10 of their seasonal contract agricultural workers are EU nationals.
The National Farmers’ Union puts the number even higher, estimating that 99 per cent of seasonal labour in UK agriculture is provided by EU workers.
In a recent speech, CBI Director General Carolyn Fairbairn pointed to the consequences of falling supply. She referred to a fruit and vegetable grower in Cambridgeshire, which relies on fruit pickers, mainly from Eastern Europe. In the past year, the number of fruit pickers has fallen by 25%.
This is another mounting Brexit problem which will be addressed with a familiar mix of indecision, diplomatic fudge, concessions and practical responses.
21 months after the Brexit vote and the UK government is still no nearer to an agreed EU immigration policy. Unless and until ministers agree and implement alternatives, freedom of movement continues. Meanwhile, uncertainty prevails, leading to more anecdotal stories of crops left to rot and farming activities relocated.
Labour shortages may be addressed with some new British born recruits. Though with the current UK employment market, those shortages in workers may feed through into supply shortage of produce. Supermarkets may respond by importing from elsewhere, or passing on the new costs to shoppers.