FRC says UK farming faces major Brexit labour challenge

Britain will need to invest in its agricultural workforce to cope with changes in migration policy following Brexit, according to a new report from the Food Research Collaboration (FRC).

Quoting data showing that foreign workers carry out most of the seasonal, unskilled work in the UK agricultural system, the report concludes that if Britain’s exit from the EU results in a significant reduction in migration, casual positions in farming may become more difficult to fill.

Called Agricultural Labour in the UK, the report is written by Stephen Devlin (pictured above) of the New Economics Foundation. He argues that the UK will need to make farming jobs more attractive to British workers, especially as agriculture shifts towards healthier diets and more environmentally sensitive production methods, which will in turn require an increase in labour input.

Currently, the agricultural labour force makes up less than 1% of the UK working population, with numbers in the industry continuing to decline. At the same time, working conditions in the sector are increasingly insecure, according to figures cited in the report which show the proportion of casual and seasonal labourers rose from 5% in 1980 to 14% in 2014.

“In the wake of Brexit the very future of our food system is up for grabs,” said Mr Devlin, adding that the policies the industry puts in place now will determine what consumers eat and how the countryside looks in 50 years.

FRC is an initiative of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London. The New Economics Foundation is a UK-based independent “think tank”.

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