Labour shortages may force Scottish fruit production overseas
Holyrood's Economy Committee heard that Scottish fruit producers could have to scale back or move overseas as a result of any inability to recruit from EU countries post-Brexit.
James Porter, from Angus Soft Fruits, which accounts for 60% of Scottish soft fruit production, told the committee it employed around 4,000 seasonal workers from EU countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and the Baltic states.
He said the industry is completely reliant on seasonal labour with just 2-3% of staff employed locally, and while there is no problem in recruiting in Scotland in the short-term, colleagues south of the border are facing "serious problems" recruiting for next year and workers are "very worried" about the future.
Asked about the impact of not being able to recruit from the EU, he said: "You could either scale right back and try and match your production to the labour that was available or you could move it abroad... If you can't source the labour you have no choice.
Porter told MSPs there are several reasons why the industry cannot source enough labour locally, including the seasonal nature of the work, the unsociable hours, and the fact workers often have to live on the farm.
He cited one occasion where the company had gone to the local job centre to recruit 20 workers to help with storm damage.
"Two weeks later we didn't have 20. To be fair to them it's pretty tough work, it's not for everyone, but we have tried and... if someone comes and asks for work locally I'll certainly give them a go." ■