CALLS FOR RETHINK ON FARM WORKERS - Fears crops could be left to rot in fields unless rules change


West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas, right, meets Andrew Richards, who runs Carwin Farm, near Hayle, and is the chairman of Cornwall Daffodil Bulb Growers’ Association. Photo Paul Williams

30th June 2021

By Juliet Lunam

West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas is calling for ministers to rethink plans for their Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme and include non-food crops to ensure there are enough people and crops are not left rotting in the fields.

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) – in place for 60 years – allows people from other countries to work over here on farms for harvesting. Over the years, the rules have changed as travel and work restrictions have altered but with the UK’s exit from the EU, a Seasonal Workers Pilot was announced.

It is managed by the Home Office and DEFRA and is being phased in with 10,000 people allowed to come and work last year and 30,000 planned for this year. However, they are only allowed to work on food crops which means harvests of products like daffodils are excluded.

West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas said at the moment, the scheme only covers edible horticulture because this is where the most significant shortages were reported. But he said it is clear the parameters of the scheme as they are now are not working for Cornwall, and he is urging the government to extend them.

With 78 per cent of British daffodils grown in Cornwall, Cornish farmers are angry at the exclusion. Andrew Richards who runs Carwin Farm, near Hayle, is the chairman of Cornwall Daffodil Bulb Growers’ Association.

He said: “Originally, we were in the scheme. We want to know why we’re not part of it any more. The NFU conducted a survey in April, following this year’s flower-picking season and it showed 33 per cent were short of labour and 24 per cent of crops were left in the fields unharvested. “This has been looming for about three years, since the advent of Brexit but Covid has probably made it slightly worse.”

Mr Thomas said: “It is in the Government’s interest to rethink the approach to the seasonal workers scheme. The VAT collected on Cornwall’s daffodils alone is estimated at £20m which will be lost if we can’t maintain this important business.

“I’m not asking for more foreign workers, only that they can start their season picking daffodils and then move on to other food crops or other ornamentals. All the government needs to do is to increase the length of the visa and enable greater flexibility so seasonal workers can move more easily from one crop to another.

“The government believes we can ‘grow’ our own workforce which may be the case but only at the expense of other demands such as social care and hospitality.

“We must celebrate the opportunity for people from overseas working in the UK as seasonal workers wherever they live in the world. It enriches our culture and supports our economy.”