Farmers 'struggling' to recruit harvest workers

A farmer says she has been “struggling massively” to find seasonal workers for this year’s harvests.

Others have told BBC Wales that they are offering customers “pick your own” options to improve their resilience.

But farming leaders said that was not feasible for large farms.

The UK government has made 15,000 extra visas available for seasonal workers, bringing the total number of people who can travel here to help to 45,000.

Tessa Elliot said she and other crop farmers “had enough on our plate”, such as coping with weather conditions, without having to find temporary workers.

She said there were “a lot of factors” contributing to recruitment issues, like fallout from Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

We used to have a lot of overseas workers that came over to do seasonal work and then go home for the winter months, but not any more,” said Tessa, whose family grows potatoes near Cresselly, Pembrokeshire.

“And even since the visas have been approved a bit more, we’re still struggling massively.”

A neighbouring farm has diversified with “pick your own” options for customers, partly as a result of not wanting to be reliant on outside labour.

Hugh and Rachel Thomas grow crops on their farm near Nevern and allow customers to pick pumpkins at harvest time.

They also have a “pick your own” field of sunflowers in the summer, as well as adding a children’s adventure playground.

“We wanted to be self-contained and that’s one reason we went in this direction,” said Hugh.

“It’s hard to plan ahead and although there are incentives to get people to come to work for you, getting them to come every day, regularly, without having to chase, is a problem.”

Hugh said that the uncertainty around future farming policies, as well as wanting to sell direct to local customers, informed their decision.

Aled Davies

Aled Davies said the lack of seasonal workers was an issue

But NFU Cymru county adviser Aled Davies said “pick your own” could never be a solution to worker shortages on large farms.

“There is an issue with seasonal workers’ ability to work in this country,” he added.

“We welcome the fact that the UK government has given 45,000 people the right to work in the UK on a temporary basis.

“But it is still an issue on some of these farms.”

For Tessa, the problem is stark.

“If we can’t get pickers, potatoes aren’t going to be on the table, simple as.”

The UK government said it recognised seasonal labour was an “integral part” of the UK’s rural economy.

“We will continue to support our farmers and growers with the people they need, whilst making improvements to the Seasonal Workers route to stop exploitation and will take decisive action against anyone who breaks the rules,” it said.

Why are farms struggling for workers?

Attracting seasonal workers remains a problem for some Welsh farmers, despite the UK government’s decision to increase the number of visas available for people from overseas.

Part of the problem may be that since the pandemic the economy as a whole has been experiencing a tight labour market, which has resulted in employers competing for workers.

There are signs that this is now easing, but the challenges of attracting seasonal workers remains. By definition it is short term, physical work that can be weather dependent.

And it can be especially challenging for farmers in very rural areas, where transport is more difficult and the pools of available workers may be smaller.

But the job is no less essential for any of that.

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