Ali Capper, Executive Chair of English Apples & Pears (EAP) says: “Upon first reflection of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report we are delighted to see that the need for a competent and reliable workforce has been recognised.
“However, we are surprised that the MAC mistakenly considers the British Apple and Pear industry to be a low-productivity and low-wage industry. Wage inflation has been 12% year-on-year in horticulture and the sector has already demonstrated the clear ability to pay competitive salaries for labour throughout the production process, with our growers paying average wages of £10 to £12 an hour. This is significantly above the national living wage.
“Significant investment into modern orchard systems and equipment has meant that, in the last decade alone, we have successfully increased the market-share of British apples from 26% to 42%. We cannot ignore these numbers, nor should we overlook the industry’s potential to grow further.
“We already know that labour is in short supply. 41% of our growers have seen fewer applications for seasonal picking work this year, and 61% believe 2019 will be even worse. We need more than 11,500 seasonal workers by 2021 to keep pace with a crop that is set to grow, and these individuals must have a mix of skills and experience to ensure that we can continue to produce more great British apples and pears.
“The recent Government announcement of a pilot Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme is a promising response and a step in the right direction, but we need the Government to consider a larger scale solution. Without the right number of seasonal workers, our ‘best in class’ British apples and pears could be left to rot on the trees.”