'Impossible' not to rely on migrant fruit pickers says Herefordshire farmer
A call by the home secretary to limit dependence on migrant workers was "impossible", a farmer said.
Christine Snell runs a soft fruit farm in Herefordshire and said she was barely able to recruit 10% of the workers it needed during the pandemic.
"Had I relied on them to pick the crops, the crops would have just remained in the field," she said.
Suella Braverman said on Monday there was "no good reason" the UK could not train its own fruit pickers.
Addressing a conference in London, the home secretary argued there should be training for British fruit pickers, lorry drivers and butchers in a bid to bring down the reliance on migrant workers.
Mrs Snell said her farm, Wind Hill, hires about 300 seasonal workers from all over the world each year for six months.
One of her current workers is 25-year-old Nazife Ayrush from Bulgaria who does the job to fund her studies.
"We tried very hard in the pandemic to recruit locally. Out of the 300 we need, we were able to recruit about 35," Mrs Snell said.
Of those, many soon left when other opportunities arose, Mrs Snell said.
The horticulture industry has suffered labour shortages since the UK left the EU, made worse by the pandemic, and a campaign to recruit more UK-based workers for seasonal farm roles was scrapped in 2021.
A government report in 2022 found British workers were "not strongly attracted to roles in the food supply chain, particularly seasonal work".
It highlighted the need for more training and technology to address "longstanding negative perceptions" of working in the sector.
Ms Braverman said the UK needed to be "less dependent on low-skilled foreign labour" but her speech divided politicians.
Among those who disagreed with her was the Conservative MP for Wyre Forest, Mark Garnier.
"I don't see why we should be trying to persuade [kids] to do low-productivity, less aspirational jobs like fruit picking when they want to do better things," he added.
Mr Garnier said it was important to distinguish between migrant workers and other forms of immigration.
"They're not coming in because they're hanging around going on the dole line, they're coming in because we need migrant workers to do the jobs," he said.
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