British strawberries are known not only to fans of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The harvest continues, but not without problems. There is a reason for this.
In view of the current harvest season, British blueberry growers have applied for more visas for EU seasonal workers. This is just the beginning of the season. “However, we anticipate some labor shortages,” said British Berry Growers chief Nick Marston.
“It is therefore important that the Home Office now issues an additional 10,000 visas to avoid delays and meet the needs of hard-working British berry growers and our consumers,” said Marston.
In December, the ministry extended the visa program until 2024. It foresees up to 30,000 visas per year for the horticulture sector, with a possible 10,000 more. For the first time, ornamental plant breeders can also apply. According to the association’s estimates, the industry needs 20,000 jobs. employees. The proportion of blueberry farmers in the total seasonal workforce is usually around 40 percent – which would mean that a total of 50,000 helpers would have to come to the country.
Fewer people returning after Brexit
When asked how many employees are actually employed and how many are still needed, the association was unable to answer and turned to four responsible HR service providers. There has been no reaction since Friday afternoon.
Brexit has serious ramifications for an industry with annual sales of around £ 1.6 billion (€ 1.9 billion). Seasonal workers, mainly from Eastern European countries such as Romania, require a work visa from the beginning of 2021 as the UK government has abolished freedom of movement. Anyone who has previously worked in the UK does not need a visa. However, the number of those returning in 2021 has dropped well below expected levels, the association head Marston said. There is concern that the numbers will continue to decline. Status does not help attract new workers from the EU, Marston said. That is why a special visa program is all the more important.
“The UK’s berry industry has made significant strides in automation in the last few years,” said Marston. However, farm tasks are complex. They require robotic hands, among other things, and are also dependent on artificial intelligence. “That’s why we’re still a few years away from the widespread use of automation and robotics for harvesting.” Special visas would fill the gap until technology replaces human collectors. (dpa)