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farming: NFU chief warns over labour.

LABOUR shortages and un-harvested crops are costing farmers and growers millions of pounds and putting massive strain on the industry, NFU president Peter Kendall has told an influential House of Lords committee.

Mr Kendall told the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs that agriculture and particularly horticulture were suffering from a lack of seasonal migrant labour as a result of the reduction in the number of people from the EU seeking to work in the industry.

The industry was unique in needing large numbers of seasonal workers because of the demands of planting and harvesting.

The NFU has been calling on the Government to look again at the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) to increase the number of SAWS permits issued from 16,250 to 21,000 amid concerns about the shortfall in the amount of labour needed by farmers and growers for the 2008 season.

Mr Kendall said: "SAWS workers provide a valuable pool of labour for agricultural and horticultural businesses who are considered to be conscientious and hard working.

"Employers do try to recruit British labour but have limited success, with few of the workers remaining committed to continuing to work on their businesses.

"Employers rely on their labour for the success of their businesses. Modern food production is about just in time delivery of high quality food to British retailers which requires businesses being able to pick fruit and vegetables and supply them to their customers.

"Across the horticulture industry migrant labour is vital."

Mr Kendall said that while the new Migration Advisory Committee to advise the Government on the changing needs of the labour market was welcome, there were concerns about the time it would take between the committee identifying a labour shortage and ministers deciding to change policy which could mean growers losing some of their harvest.

He added: "The worrying thing for many in our industry is that once a shortage has been identified it may be too late. The inherently risky nature of agricultural and horticultural businesses means they may be permanently, if not terminally, damaged in a matter of weeks by a shortage of labour."
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 25, 2007
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