Strawberry picker

Scotland’s soft-fruit farmers fear berries could be left to rot in polytunnels due to a shortage of pickers coming from Eastern Europe, reports Glasgow-based STV News.

Scottish growers blame post-Brexit costs and delays to visa paperwork for discouraging seasonal workers coming back to Scotland this year.

STV News said in previous years 75 per cent of seasonal workers coming from Europe would return to Scottish farms. But this year, the combination of Covid and Brexit has resulted in workers travelling to other countries instead where there is less paperwork and less cost.

NFU Scotland Horticulture committee chair Iain Brown told the publication that the UK government needs to take urgent action to prevent fresh produce being left to rot.

The UK Government increased the number of seasonal workers allowed in the country from 10,000 to 30,000. However, Brown warned of a looming crisis if delays with potential pickers’ paperwork aren’t resolved.

“The announcement of one additional [Seasonal Worker Programme] operator was only made at the end of April, the processing of these visas takes six weeks,” Brown said. “So that’s not going to help the start of the fruit and vegetable season in Scotland.

“The effect will be the crops are not all harvested, which would be hugely disappointing and financially have serious consequences for businesses in Scotland. So, with some urgency we need these visas issued to allow workers to get onto farms.”

Easter Grangemuir Farm near Pittenweem in Fife relies 100 per cent on pickers coming from the continent to harvest the fruit, the report said.

Farm manager Nicoleta Descultu told STV News: “People cannot afford to come to the UK. So that’s why they will go for the easy option, other countries where they don’t have to pay to come to work.

“If we take, for example, a couple, if they want to come, it is €330 each – so a total €660, plus flight tickets, plus PCR test, plus some money before they earn their first money, so it will go to more than €1,000.”