The price of one of Britain’s most famous fruits may go up by 50% if Brexit restricts EU seasonal laborers from harvesting.
Almost 95% of the 29,000 people needed for cultivating and collecting strawberries and other soft fruit crops are from Poland and Romania.
Demand for workers among farmers would grow as the industry; currently, worth £1.2bn annually grows but cautioned that staff shortages were already hitting farmers following Brexit vote.
A fixed-term contract Seasonal Agriculture Permit Scheme would allow laborers from Europe to go to the UK “to fill the jobs UK citizens shun” if the right of movement ends.
British Summer Fruits chairman, Laurence Olins, said: “This is as extreme as it gets. If we do not have the pickers, we do not have a soft fruit industry.
“It is inconceivable that people who voted to leave the European Union wanted to destroy an iconic and incredibly competitive British horticulture industry, and see the end of buying British produce.
“But if we cannot ensure access to the seasonal workers needed to produce soft fruit in Britain, that will be an unintended consequence of Brexit – along with soaring prices and increased reliance on imports.”
The Government had admitted that there are parts of the economy at risk of employment deficits after Brexit and it intends to take advice this year on the reliance on migration.
On Thursday, a spokesperson said: “The Government places great value on the UK’s food and farming industries, both as a crucial component of the UK economy and of the fabric of rural Britain.
“Until we have left the EU, the UK will remain a member with all of the rights and obligations that membership entails, and employers in the agricultural and food processing sectors are free to continue to recruit EU workers to meet their labor needs.
“Labour market statistics published in May show that in the period to March 2017 there were 171,000 more EU workers in the UK workforce than the year before.
“We are determined to get the best deal for the UK in our negotiations to leave the EU, not least for our world-leading food and farming industry which is a key part of our nation’s economic success.”