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'This is extreme as it gets' fruit industry fears over struggles to get seasonal workers from EU

The price of strawberries and other British summer fruit will "soar" if Brexit negotiations fail to allow for seasonal labourers from Europe to cultivate and harvest the crops, according to a report.

Prices for strawberries and raspberries will rise by 35% to 50% if Brexit restricts access to EU labour, the report by farm business consultants Andersons for industry body British Summer Fruits predicts.

The predictions will affect the eastern region which sees a large portion of fruit crops being grown.

Fruit pickers at Wilkin & Sons in Tiptree picking strawberries. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Wilkin & Sons in Tiptree in Essex grows 200 acres of fruit and strawberry picking season is in full swing. The business is dependent on seasonal workers from Europe and this year they have 20% fewer workers than they'd like.

Seasonal workers are a critical resource for us, 200 acres of fruit is grown here and harvesting that crop is entirely dependent and has been for 70 years on a seasonal agricultural workforce...It’s difficult, we are coming off the back of peak season and ideally we want 330 staff on site and this year we are 270 so we are managing but it is certainly not comfortable.

– Chris Newenham, Managing Director, Wilkin & Sons in Tiptree
Wilkin & Sons in Tiptree, Essex grows the scarlet strawberry which is particularly labour intensive. Credit: ITV News Anglia

We don't know, we don't know, everybody is waiting.

If the British people said go out we have no choice and we have to go and find work somewhere else maybe Spain maybe Germany. But it's not looking good I think.

– Radoslav, fruit picker from Bulgaria
95%
Of seasonal workers come from EU

It also foresees a slump in Government revenue from income tax, corporation tax and National Insurance, falling soft fruit consumption, less soft fruit being grown in the UK and growers going out of business.

The report concludes the UK would experience significantly reduced food self-sufficiency and a negative shift on the UK's balance of payments as a result of increased imports if growers could no longer employ seasonal workers from the EU.

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.

– British Summer Fruits Chairman, Laurence Olins
Seasonal workers at Kemp Herbs and Salads. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Kemp Herbs and Salads based near Thetford in Norfolk say 100% of its seasonal staff are from the EU.

The company says they've only employed six people from the local area in 26 years of business.

I think they're hesitating. For whatever reason, devaluation of the pound, they're uncertain about the future and therefore it's made them a little bit hesitant to respond. Which means we don't know how many people we might get. We're extremely dependent on this labour because a lot it is hand work. There is no way machinery can harvest a lot of the herbs that we grow.

– David Kemp, Director