IF THE seasonal agricultural workers scheme is not substantially enlarged, it could mean the 'end of the Scottish strawberry,' the soft fruit sector has warned.

The current maximum of 10,000 non-EU workers to fill seasonal worker roles has been labelled as a 'drop in the ocean' of what is needed to satisfy the industry's actual labour demands. Soft fruit growers have called on the UK Government to extend the new SAWS to at least 70,000.

“Angus Growers, who grow fruit that is sold through Angus Soft Fruits, employ around 4000 seasonal workers a year, almost all of whom come from outside the UK," confirmed chairman at Angus Soft Fruits, Lochy Porter.

“We work hard to recruit local workers and pay average wages well above the living wage but, by definition, a seasonal job is less attractive than a permanent one. In summer months, fruit ripens incredibly fast, which is why we rely on non-UK workers for the short and medium term to pick our crops," he explained.

“The announcement of a points scheme and the end of access to our labour market for manually skilled workers will mean the effective end of the UK production of many horticultural products," he continued. "If the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme is not made permanent and expanded, it could even mean the end for the Scottish strawberry. Not only would this be a disaster for growers across the country, but the public would lose some of their most loved berries. Instead, they will be left to buy substantially more expensive fruit imported from the EU picked by workers previously available to UK growers.”

Chairman of British Summer Fruits, Nicholas Marston, added: “Our British berry growers employ around 29,000 seasonal workers a year, the horticulture sector more than 70,000, 99% of whom come from outside the UK.

“British Growers have invested in the latest berry production techniques to allow much higher levels of productivity. This means we can keep up with the growing demand for British berries with the same numbers of workers.

"There is also a great deal of research and development being carried out on robotics and automation, but the effective commercial use of these technologies is many years away. When it does become viable, automation will only replace a proportion of manual workers as farm fields are very different to factory floors."