A UK supplier has expressed fresh concerns over the discontinuation of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS).

There are fears that temporary workers from Bulgaria and Romania will now seek out work in other European countries ahead of the UK when transitional controls are lifted, at the end of the year, allowing the workers free access to Europe's labour market.

Alastair Brooks, of Kent-based Langdon Manor Farm, is a soft-fruit grower who employs up to 200 seasonal workers and he is fearful that sanctions could damage the current progress of the UK fresh produce industry.

Brooks told The Guardian: 'The Kent apple industry was on its knees and now it's returning to growth because they've finally got the workforce.'

Citing the progress of the UKIP party, Brooks believes that the government is being backed into a corner on immigration. He added: 'People have understandable concerns about immigration, but temporary migrant workers have now unfortunately got tied up in the debate.'

However, a recent report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), claims that British growers will be able to recruit a 'sufficient' number of seasonal workers in the first couple of years post-SAWS, but warns that a replacement scheme must be installed to secure progress in the long term. The report states that a major shortage of seasonal migrant labour in the coming years could lead to a 15 per cent hike in supermarket prices on fresh produce.

'If growers cannot get the required labour, evidence suggests that a replacement SAWS would help horticulture thrive in the long run, but it is ultimately for the government to decide if this sector is a priority,' said Professor David Metcalf, chairman of MAC.

Anthony Snell, vice chairman of the NFU’s horticulture and potatoes board, has welcomed the MAC report and said that 'time is of the essence' for the government to now look into an alternative. 'MAC points out that the alternatives to replacing SAWS are bleak - we either accept that there will be a contraction of the horticulture industry in the UK or wait for technological advances that might, in future, reduce our reliance on migrant workers,' said Snell.

He added: 'This will never be feasible for certain crops and, where the technology does exist, is likely to be inaccessible because of the huge levels of investment required.

“What’s important now is that the Home Office makes a decision based on the evidence provided. Uncertainty and delay on this issue is going to discourage growers from investing and expanding their businesses with any confidence, so time is of the essence.”

TheNFUrevealed in a recent survey that over 95 per cent of UK growers using SAWS labour last year felt a removal of the scheme would have a negative impact on their business.The survey, completed by growers who employ over one third of England’s total seasonal workforce, also shows that every 3.5 seasonal jobs support one UK permanent job.